One overriding thought inspired Sir Nick Faldo’s epic surge to play-off victory over Raymond Floyd in the 1990 Masters; he simply could not stand the prospect of draping the coveted Green Jacket on the veteran American’s broad shoulders.
By tradition the previous year’s winner hands over golf’s most desired garment in the Butler Cabin ceremony that concludes every Masters.
In the immediate aftermath of defeat, Faldo would have been expected to be full of congratulatory smiles. It was a thought he could not stomach and a scenario he thrillingly and gutsily warded off.
This week the English champion should have been in Augusta celebrating the 30th anniversary of that win, one that made him only the second golfer to successfully defend a Masters title.
Rather than settling amid the azaleas and dogwood that decorate that most verdant corner of Georgia, Faldo is, like the rest of us, in lockdown. But at least he can cherish some of his fondest golfing memories from afar.
If and when the 2020 Masters is played after the coronavirus outbreak is contained, it will have to go some way to match the drama and excitement of the third major victory of Faldo’s stellar career.
Thirty years ago the Englishman was at the very height of his powers. Following on from his Augusta triumph, he nearly won the US Open before romping home in The Open at St Andrews that summer.
That year established Faldo as a genuine sporting superstar, an enduring figure who has helped thousands of youngsters embrace golf. He has also become the established commentary voice of the Masters on American television.
The man from Welwyn Garden City in Hertfordshire, had won The Open three years earlier and then claimed his first Masters in 1989. That victory came at the second extra hole of a play-off against Scott Hoch.
In America Faldo had yet to truly transcend, his win was remembered more for Hoch’s choke. The American missed the shortest of putts on the 10th green, the first hole of sudden death.
Faldo then sank a glorious birdie putt at the 11th, and arms outstretched looked skywards to the darkening heavens in celebration.
Twelve months on he arrived for his title defence with only Australian Greg Norman ahead of him in the world rankings. Faldo opened with rounds of 71 and 72 and was tucked in the peloton at the halfway stage.
Then came a blistering Saturday 66 which took him to third place just three strokes behind Floyd who had added two 68s to an opening 70.
Floyd was the story. A year earlier he had been America’s Ryder Captain for the 14-14 draw at the Belfry, his days as a major contender considered long gone.
Now, at the age of 47, Floyd was trying to overhaul Jack Nicklaus’s record set in 1986 for being the oldest Masters champion. The galleries were pulling for him, but were torn because a 50-year-old Nicklaus was also in the frame.
At 10 under par, Floyd was two clear of John Huston, the rookie who accompanied him for the final round and whose coin may ultimately have scuppered his older partner’s tilt at history.
Somewhat appropriately, Faldo, at seven under par, was paired with record six-time winner Nicklaus, who was five under. “Playing with Jack was very cool and we were totally engrossed in it,” Faldo told BBC Sport.
It was through watching Nicklaus compete in the 1971 Masters on his parent’s new colour television that a 14-year-old Faldo became inspired to take up the game.
“I thought, right let’s try golf,” Faldo later revealed. “Six years later I was playing against Jack in the 1977 Ryder Cup.”
And it is worth noting that in that fourball contest Faldo partnered Peter Oosterhuis to a 3&1 victory. Nicklaus’ partner was Ray Floyd.
Recovering from a poor start
On Sunday, 8 April, 1990 Faldo made a horrendous start to the final round of his title defence. “It all started badly, I doubled the first,” he told me.
“I drove it in the bunker, knocked it out, chipped it on and three putted. I remember saying to myself ‘you’ve just got to make four down the [par-five] second’ and I did and that kind of corrected things.”
These were holes that went unseen by television audiences because this was a time before the Augusta National allowed live coverage of the early part of the round.
Floyd made a solid start reeling off four straight pars, including a brilliant up and down from the back of the third. He was a wizard with his wedges, but they could not help him from dropping a shot at the fifth after driving into the trees.
He seemed in a fine mental state, though, and gave CBS’s youthful looking Jim Nantz a Butler Cabin interview prior to teeing off. “It’s a much more comfortable feeling this time Jim,” he said.
“I’ve been at peace with myself, I’m having a lot of fun and that was my goal coming in. I didn’t really expect to be in the lead come Sunday but I’m thrilled to be here, believe me.
“Sure it would be a dream to be the oldest winner of the US Open (aged 43 in 1986) and then come back and be the oldest winner of the Masters, but I’m not going to put any pressure on myself.”
Towards the closing section of the front nine Floyd, who won by eight with a record score of 17 under par in 1976, remained in control.
Then came the biggest cheer so far of that dramatic afternoon. It greeted Nicklaus holing out with a perfect bunker shot from the front of the seventh.
Faldo had already hit a brilliant approach and tapped in for his own birdie to move to within two of Floyd’s lead. The leaderboards showed the situation; Floyd -9, Faldo -7, Nicklaus -5, Huston -4.
Floyd had been demolishing the par-five holes all week and delivered another birdie after finding the green on the long eighth in two mighty blows to go three clear.
Faldo responded with a sensational approach to the ninth, keeping the ball under the hole despite the usual treacherous front pin position. Nervelessly the British star holed for another crucial birdie.
Memories were fading of that potentially ruinous opening double bogey but Floyd was finding a way to maintain his advantage. A nervy up and down, he dropped his putter in relief as his unconvincing par putt on the ninth disappeared, kept the US veteran at 10 under par.
Two-times Masters champion Ben Crenshaw had just finished his round at this stage and presciently predicted back-nine fireworks.
“A fellow who really is playing well and has a good gauge for how far he is hitting the ball and a good conception of the shots could make a heck of a run,” he said with his familiar folksy Texan drawl.
The charge falters…
Faldo’s start to that inward half was not promising. Using a persimmon headed driver he blocked his tee shot, it was short and found a difficult hanging lie. His second shot ended up in a greenside bunker and he could only make bogey.
Moments later Floyd successfully escaped from the same hazard to make par and preserve his healthy advantage. Faldo could only par the 11th where Floyd then tugged a tee shot to the left, leaving a treacherous approach over the pond that guards the left side of the green.
After much consultation with his caddie, a certain Steve Williams – who later enjoyed 13 major wins at the side of Tiger Woods – Floyd fashioned a daring approach. But his promising birdie attempt lipped out.
By this time Faldo was surveying a plugged lie in the back left bunker of the short 12th, “I don’t believe it, I don’t believe it,” he moaned. The best he could do was to leave his ball just off the front edge of the green with a deft splash shot.
Then he saw Nicklaus hole for birdie from off the back of the green. “And they said I couldn’t putt anymore,” muttered the 18 times major champion as he plucked his ball from the hole.
Now the pressure was on Faldo as he putted from the front fringe, a bogey could prove ruinous. The line was good, had he given it enough?
“Oh well done,” he sarcastically commented before adding with added volume: “Go!” The ball listened, it dropped seemingly exhausted by its last revolution.
Faldo and Nicklaus chuntered to each other on the way back to the 13th tee but both were buoyed by the success of their lengthy putts.
Behind, but ahead on the leaderboard, Floyd was ready to pounce. He holed from off the back of the green to go 11 under.
Four strokes clear with six to play.
Birdie chances coming
Anything less than birdie at the par-five 13th would not have done for the British defending champion. The hole measured only 465 yards in those days and two magnificent shots set up a two-putt birdie to bring Faldo back within three.
Floyd was out of position off the tee and could only par. Faldo was climbing up the 14th with a growing feeling inside: “I kept saying to myself, ‘I’m not doing that, I’m not putting the jacket on him,'” he said.
The next birdie came at the par-five 15th where Faldo’s second shot flew over the water guarding the front of the shallow green and ran through the back.
He swung with a notably elegant and controlled tempo all day, but the 32-year-old was being outdriven by Nicklaus, 18 years his senior, throughout the round.
However, unlike his great playing partner that day, Faldo’s short game was immaculate. A brave chip to four feet led to a vital birdie attempt.
“He must make a birdie here,” 1973 Open winner Tom Weiskopf told US television viewers. “This is the tournament for Nick Faldo.”
The defending champion stroked it home and marched to the par-three 16th tee from where he despatched a tee shot 20 feet short of the hole. Nicklaus dumped his tee shot into the water, his race was run but Faldo’s stride was quickening.
He stooped over his ball which sat in an oasis of sunshine on an otherwise shaded green. A big man, his short putter looked a mere toothpick as he jabbed the ball forward.
It never looked like it could miss and it duly disappeared, Faldo sinking to his knees. He was getting a feeling, a big feeling that he was keeping the Green Jacket.
“I had dreamed that I would make two at 16,” Faldo explained. “And that seemed a key thing. If you’re going to win you’ve got to make two at 16.
“When I hit that putt and holed it you can see my reaction. It’s not leaping up, I just put my head down on the putter as if to say right, I do believe because that is what I’d dreamed and what I wanted.”
While Faldo’s reaction was muted, US commentators were exploding. “Yes! We have a contest!” yelled Ben Wright in his television tower overlooking the action. The deficit was down to one.
Floyd had only parred the 15th after nearly holing his chip for birdie on the hole before. His ball crucially brushed Huston’s ball marker just as it seemed destined to drop and came to rest an inch from the hole.
Debate still rages over whether the rookie’s marker had prevented it from dropping and costing Floyd the Masters.
Regardless, the leader still needed the most imaginative touch to save par at the short 16th. With a tall upright stance, he borrowed 25 feet to the right of the hole for a lagged first putt from the upper right-hand shelf of the green.
This was vintage Masters stuff.
Faldo parred the 17th but Floyd three-putted that green from 75 feet.
As the defending champion arrived on the home green the crowds gasped as the scoreboards were altered to show him locked with the long-time leader at 10 under par.
Faldo’s two putt from off the back of the green was sheer class. The first putt bobbled in the fringe, the three footer to remain in a share of the lead was ruthlessly secure.
Nicklaus patted him on the back as he exited the green to sign for a 69 and an inward half of 34 compiled under the most intense pressure imaginable. “A really awkward two putt on the last, that was pretty darned cool,” Faldo recalled.
Now the pressure had shifted onto Floyd. He went with his metal headed driver, a recent Japanese import, to force a winning birdie but his drive flew into the first of the bunkers down the left.
From an unpromising lie he found more of Augusta’s pristine white sand to the right of the green before fashioning a brilliant up and down to force sudden death.
Faldo rides his luck…again
This was familiar territory for Faldo having, somewhat fortunately, come through the play-off against Hoch 12 months earlier.
“My motivation was simple,” he reiterated.
“I’m not putting my jacket on Ray Floyd, I’m not doing that. I think that was a good thing. I kept saying to myself, ‘I’m not doing that, I’m not putting the jacket on him’.”
They headed to the 10th. Again Faldo hit a poor tee shot, again he found the greenside bunker.
“The year before I’d made a mess of it but this time I knew what I was doing and I hit a really great bunker shot to about four, five feet,” he said.
Floyd had left short his tentative 16-foot birdie attempt after a brilliant drive and approach meaning Faldo had a must make four-footer to take it to the 11th.
“When I faced the putt, I thought ‘My God, after what happened to Scott last year maybe the gods are going to get it back on me,” the champion said in the Butler Cabin afterwards.
Thirty years on Faldo says: “I feel that showed that I was alright, ‘I’m here mate I’m going to stick around’.”
It was an important sentiment to take to the dangerous par-four 11th, both players having parred it in their four rounds of regulation play. It is also clear that the fear of losing that was driving Faldo.
“That was the bit that was so weird,” Faldo told me. “I was given a print form an artist of that 11th hole and he’d signed it for me.
“And I thought, ‘is that going to sit on the wall and I’m going to be saying jeez I won the Masters there and I lost the Masters there?’ That was a weird thing to be thinking.”
Faldo hit the longer drive but both players were in excellent shape in the fairway. Floyd had no need to flirt with the water with his six iron from 180 yards.
“He rushed it, whether he was trying to be super aggressive or whatever, I don’t know but he hit it in the water,” said Faldo.
“Now I was doing the maths. He was in the pond and dropping it – what can he make? I worked out he could still make a five so I had to make a four to win.
“I then controlled a chipped eight iron down the hill and kept it under the hole.”
It was a brilliant shot that demonstrated Faldo’s winning qualities at their very best.
“Then I hit a really great lag putt and that was it, pretty amazing,” he added.
Indeed Floyd had picked up before Faldo had tapped in to emulate Nicklaus’ feat from 1965 and 66 of winning consecutive Masters titles.
“This is the most devastating thing that’s ever happened to me in my career,” Floyd said. “I’ve had a lot of losses, but nothing like this.”
Faldo, meanwhile, headed back up to the Butler Cabin where Scotland’s Sandy Lyle – the first British player to win the Masters in 1988 – had handed him the Green Jacket for the first time 12 months earlier. “I really feel as though I’ve made history this time,” Faldo tearfully stated.
Faldo inspiring generations
Now a three-times major winner, the then 32 year old had made a giant leap in the history books which he further confirmed with his superb five-shot Open win at the Home of Golf later that year.
He would go on to win a third Open in 1992 at Muirfield and then overhaul Norman to win the 1996 Masters, the sixth and final major of his career.
Off the back of these successes he launched the Faldo Series to inspire junior golfers such as four-times major winner Rory McIlroy. “The nicest thing is that people are proud to say to me that I was a Faldo Series player,” he said.
Faldo was speaking from Arizona where he was hosting the Major Champions Invitational team event featuring boys and girls aged between 14 and 18.
Several fellow major winners were involved including Jordan Spieth, the 2015 Masters winner, who wasn’t even born when Faldo successfully defended his title.
Now aged 62 Faldo instinctively fights the march of time. “It’s only a number but when you then say that’s half a life ago, that’s the one that hurts,” he said.
“It’s really special when I think what we did. Fanny Sunesson was a rookie caddie to me, we were brand new.
“We ran off to Florida to train and get prepared and then amazingly Augusta happened. Crash, bang wallop, I defend and then we went on a tear that summer.
“Close at the US Open and then I win at St Andrews and so that was an incredibly special time.
“To win two majors in a year, not too many have done that. Yes, it is a shock that it is 30 years ago. I’ll be digging out some very nice 1990 wine to celebrate it.”
It’s a shame that he will not be doing that at Augusta this week, but still great memories to cherish.
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