I can remember the first time I set eyes on Nick Faldo. Unlike most who first see their heroes on TV, I would see this one in the flesh, hitting balls on the range as he warmed up during the third round of the Lawrence Batley International in 1983. He cut something of a lonely figure on that dreary Bradford morning. There was no entourage, and it looked like a stiff breeze would blow Faldo’s slight frame away.
Meanwhile, further down the line of players, the crowds flocked behind an old wire fence towards the instantly recognisable figure of Seve Ballesteros. Desperate to catch sight of a global superstar who was fresh off the back of winning that year’s Masters – his third Major title – pockets of youngsters pushed and screeched as the dashing Spaniard caressed wedge shots with nonchalant ease.
You suspect that some players would have suffered bruised egos having been given the cold shoulder by the galleries, but none of it seemed to bother Faldo. He was alone in his own world, cocooned in concentration as he went about his business on that grey Yorkshire morning. A little over a day later he would win the tournament.
The thoughts of my first sighting came flooding back to me at precisely 7pm on Friday evening, as I stood by Muirfield’s 18th green watching Faldo, some 30 years older and much stockier in build, struggling towards a double bogey in the second round of this year’s Open Championship.
Seconds earlier, he had been afforded the warmest of welcomes up the 18th alongside fellow old-timers Tom Watson and Freddie Couples. A Thursday 79 and a Friday 78 suggest the Englishman was never here to compete, but the ovation he received was more telling than the numbers.
This will be the last time Faldo plays an Open at Muirfield, the venue of two of his most defining moments in the game. It was here in 1992 where he won his third Claret Jug, holding his nerve late in the final round while John Cook and his fellow pursuers were losing theirs. And it was here in 1987 where Faldo knitted together 18 consecutive Sunday pars en route to winning his maiden Major at the expense of a wilting Paul Azinger.
Since then, both the course and the man have changed. One has become older and more lovable, the other longer and more frenetic. We’ll leave it to you to decide which one is which…