Nick Faldo, the six-times Major champion and now a TV commentator, is an astute critic and popular, too, among Americans viewers because of his English accent. He uses words like “crumbs”, “chalk and cheese” and “break the duck”, which fans lap up.
However, Nick wasn’t known for his diplomacy when he played the Tour. As his second wife, Gill Bennett, put it: “Socially, he was a 24-handicapper.” The British press gave Faldo a hard time during his early years as a professional. He was called “Foldo” when he failed, and repaid reporters after winning his first British Open by saying that he would like to thank them from the “heart of his bottom.”
So when the sports editor on the South China Morning Post newspaper asked me to caddy for the golfing great and write a story about the experience, I approached the assignment with caution. I had heard that Faldo loaded his golf bag with a brick and a few dozen balls when a British reporter caddied for him. So bricks, not birdies, were on my mind when I joined the 47-year-old and some of the world’s finest young prospects in a Faldo Series event at the Hong Kong Golf Club.
Now Sir Nick Faldo, winner of three British Open crowns and three US Masters green jackets, he was treating the category winners in the Series to a round with him after the tournament proper had ended. Teeing up with him were Taiwan’s Yani Tseng, well before she became the LPGA’s world No. 1, England’s Ben Evans, Ajeetesh Sandhu of India, and Jayvie Agojo of the Philippines. So, after checking that he had only 14 clubs in his bag and failing to find a brick, we set off.
My only previous experience of caddying was in Tennessee when I toted the bag for a wealthy banker, Bill Greene, in an amateur tournament. I hardly distinguished myself. Greene, who counted Arnold Palmer among his friends (the both attended Wake Forest university), threw his ball to me for cleaning as I headed towards the flagstick. I missed the little white missile, which rolled towards a lake, and I had to scamper back quickly to stop it disappearing into the depths.
The closest that I had come to the real thing in the pro ranks was listening to stories by Peter Coleman, Bernhard Langer’s caddie for 22 years, over dinner at the Million Dollar Challenge in South Africa some years before. I can hardly include helping Alfred “Rabbit” Dyer, who carried Gary Player’s bag for 20 years, find his trademark Panama hat when he lost it at a tournament.
So, after Faldo and the winning quartet cracked their drives down the first fairway on the course, I trudged along, lugging a fairly heavy bag, intent on keeping a clean sheet.
To do this I needed to avoid dropping the towel, head cover or putter cover. Other errors would be standing in the wrong place at the wrong time, taking a snap with my camera at the top of his backswing, chatting to someone while he played a shot, forgetting to rake bunkers, clean his ball and clubs and allowing the irons to clink too much as I walked.
I must admit that Faldo treated me gently. The Englishman was more concerned with giving helpful tips to his charges. The only time that I earned a reprimand was for failing to join the players on the tee at the 17th. I was too busy chatting to officials 20 yards away, his bag at my side, while Faldo, waiting to play his shot, was left standing empty-handed. “Caddies have been fired for less,” he barked as I stumbled up the steps as fast as my legs would carry me.
While a couple of the youngsters didn’t get into the swing of things early on, Sandhu, who lives near New Delhi, set the course alight. “You’re like hot tamales,” said Faldo after India’s top-ranked amateur made five birdies in the first 10 holes.
“Good day,” responded Sandhu, who finished runner-up in the overall stakes in the Series tournament and won the under-18 category.
Evans, from Sussex, who won the Series’ main trophy and earned a place on Team Faldo, didn’t get going as fast as he would have liked. The youngster, who went five under par in the first six holes on his way to a record-breaking 65 in the first round of the Series tournament, could only look on enviously as Sandhu stole the limelight.
Tseng, who had beaten Michelle Wie one-up in the final of a US Public Links Amateur Championships, failed to click as did Agojo. But both impressed later, particularly Tseng, who belted the ball prodigious distances.
Faldo was having trouble of his own, which made my job tougher. I had strained a ligament in my right knee a week before during a hike along Hong Kong’s MacLehose Trail, so Nick’s wayward ways didn’t help. His failure to stay on the straight and narrow made my trek much longer. “First I hit right and then I hit it left,” he groaned. “I feel like I am hitting it like a 100-year-old man.” Faldo, who said that his hip was hurting, nearly ran out of golf balls after losing several and had to dig deep in the bag to find the few left here.
Used to being recognized far and wide, Faldo was given a shock when we reached the teahouse just after the halfway mark. While the players were choosing what they wanted to eat and drink, the Chinese waitresses were wondering who would be paying. Faldo said: “Put this all on the Faldo Series bill.”
The instruction drew a blank. “But who are you?” asked one of the waitresses, clearly no golf fan. “Nick Faldo, I’m the boss,” he said as bemused officials and players looked on.
After the round, I chatted to Tseng about Michelle Wie, who was being toasted as the next big thing in women’s golf. “Who is the better player, you or Michelle?” I asked. “Well, I beat her the last time we played, so what do you think?” she replied.
Faldo, asked how I had done, said with a grin: “He moved like lightning”, he said. So I sped off before he could direct another bolt my way.
Golfing great Nick Faldo has been called a real brick (a word open to interpretation). So when I carried his bag in an event in Hong Kong, I was wary. Sir Nick at one time was treated badly by the media and called "Foldo" when he flopped. He responded by telling reporters, after he won his first British Open title, that he tanked them from the heart of his bottom. His second wife once said that he was a 24-handicapper socially. Despite my fears, I enjoyed my day with him and escaped before he could take a verbal swing at me.