Jack Nicklaus’s Memorial Tournament held last week in Dublin, Ohio is more than just a golf tournament, it is a golfing institution. Traditionally held during the Memorial week when the nation respects its fallen military, it also honours past golfing greats by inducting them into the Honorees Garden to the right of the first tee at Muirfield Village.
This year's honoree was six-time Major winner and England's finest golfer, Nick Faldo. There are names from the past that some of us needed prompting as to what they had achieved in the game. Babe Zaharias, Louis Suggs and Dow Finsterwald don't exactly roll off the tongue when recalling golfing greats, but they are immortalised in the garden.
Faldo was introduced by two -time Major champion, England's Tony Jacklin.
Jacklin’s intro was factual and familiar, though the latter’s quivering voice might have led those not familiar with it to mistake it for being emotional. But this was a thoroughly upbeat occasion.
From his initial success with a very acceptable swing, to the anguish of a complete overhaul with a technically superior David Leadbetter version and his subsequent success, there is no doubt about Faldo's pedigree in the Muirfield Village wall of fame. Faldo always impressed me with his dedication and single-minded search for perfection.
Alas he was a victim of the advance of technology. As he had perfected the compact straight hitting swing, the game changed with the arrival of superior clubs, shafts and balls that shifted the emphasis to power rather than finesse.
Faldo was a pioneer with his advanced swing coach in Leadbetter but the timing of the arrival of the new equipment did not help prolong his career.
There were the traditional speeches at the honoree ceremony held on the impressive driving range at Muirfield Village. Arnold Palmer even shuffled over to the podium for a few brief words. But the man of the moment delivered a speech befitting of an honourable inductee onto Jack Nicklaus's immortal wall.
Donald ‘Doc’ Giffin received the annual journalism award. This is presented to a scribe or media person who has spent a lifetime portraying the game. ‘Doc’ was the press secretary for the PGA Tour back in the early 60s and he ended up being Arnold Palmer’s media man for the rest of his career. At the rate Faldo is going as lead analyst for CBS and the Golf Channel, he may well be the first inductee to receive both the playing and broadcasting award.
It was a relief to Faldo when his phone rang over a year ago and the ‘Golden Bear’ was on the other end, that the great man was not calling about something Faldo the analyst had said on air but instead was wondering if Faldo the golfer would accept this year’s award.
For those of us who have observed Faldo as a player and now listen to his commentary, his insight into the modern game is really making up for all those years of silence on the course when we could never figure out how he ground out score after score, week after laborious week. His commentating has given us a chance to retrospectively understand how his mind worked when he was a dominant golfer.
Faldo looked comfortable at the podium. More relaxed than when he had to speak during his unsuccessful Ryder Cup captaincy in Louisville, Kentucky in 2008. Faldo sought to interlink the various phases in his life throughout his speech.
Firstly he enthusiastically described what it was like to be invited to stay in Jack’s house along with Tony Jacklin, right in the epicentre of the Muirfield Village, the course Jack built over 40 years ago. HQ Nicklaus is situated between the first and 18th fairways. He explained how ‘cool it was to be hanging with Jack and Barbara’ – the inductee’s perfect hosts.
Then he began at his seminal moment with the game of golf and his inspiration, Jack Nicklaus. He used to watch Nicklaus playing in Majors on the television in his end-of-terrace two-bedroomed house in Welwyn Garden City and it filled him with the notion of playing golf for a living.
He also mentioned when he went to his first Open as a kid, watching Jack jump over the wall from his hotel in Troon to get to the men’s mobile toilets; Faldo realising that his great TV hero was human after all.
He went on to describe playing a practice round with his hero and taking 20 pounds off him. He reckons Jack has a very selective memory when it comes to losing, but never forgets the wins. Faldo went on to beat him in his first Ryder Cup appearance. He realised his similarity to the greatest golfer of all time when he tried to get a tip off him when he was playing great but not finishing off by winning. He said to Jack ‘I don’t know whether to just let it happen or try to make it happen’ when Jack asked him how things were going.
Faldo expected an inspirational answer but Nicklaus wasn’t giving any secrets away to a fellow competitor when he was still trying to beat him. So Faldo had to battle on and try to figure out his own conundrum on his own.
There were endless anecdotes about Faldo’s experience with his childhood hero but none so telling as when he had lunch with both Arnie and Jack earlier that day. When the waiter asked what they wanted to drink, Arnie chose an ‘Arnold Palmer’ and Jack opted for a ‘Jack Nicklaus’(both lemonade-based drinks available widely in the US).
There is an awful lot that bonds these great players but their competitive instinct is what separates them from the rest and this year’s inductee is no exception.-