By Graham Elliott
The year was 1996 and Nick Faldo had just captured his third Masters and his sixth major championship. He earned roughly $1 million on the PGA Tour that season, but one highlight that went virtually unnoticed was the launch of the Faldo Series – an event that ranks high on his list of achievements.
“The papers were talking who is going to be the next Nick Faldo, and I felt we needed to get something started and lay down a plan,” Faldo said in a recent interview. “The mission was to give junior golfers an opportunity to play some great courses and also try to give them insight into the world of golf.
“I am very interested in teaching and I enjoy that, it is quite a skill.”
Since the Series began eight years ago, male and female European juniors have been given the opportunity to experience top-level competition at some of the world’s finest venues. Each year, 500 golfers ages 21 and under are selected from approximately 2,000 inquiries for the Series that plays in six regions of England.
Juniors compete in three 18-hole stroke-play regional tournaments, and the leading players in each age category receive points toward a regional Order of Merit ranking. The leading players in each age group qualify for the Faldo Series Championship, where the top finishers earn a spot on Team Faldo.
“They play in our events and we keep an eye on them,” said Faldo, who selects his own special team at the end of the season. “We start out by taking the winners from each age group and then we add a few who have a lot of talent, good commitment and are determined. It’s a tough call to assess kids because they are all individuals.”
For those selected, the real fun begins. Each team player receives individual attention from Faldo and his staff.
“My goal is to help them have a better understanding themselves of their own game, not just me look at their swing and see if they play well – they need to know how to play well themselves,” Faldo said.
“They need to fully understand what it takes to make their own games happen every day.”
Members also experience a series of seminars that include course management, diet and fitness, event preparation, rules and etiquette.
The team also receives a winter treat – a weeklong trip to one of Faldo’s Marriott Institutes in Orlando, Fla., or Palm Springs, Calif.
“They get 30 years of experience thrown at them and it is all good stuff,” Faldo said.
Past participants in the Series include “Little” Nick Dougherty and Marc Warren. Both players were members of the 2001 Walker Cup squad and Dougherty is a young gun on the PGA European Tour.
“He (Dougherty) was my champion for three years out of four,” Faldo said. “I first met him at 15 and obviously he was a very mature kid even (then). “I was involved with him a fair bit in his early days and to obviously come on (the European) Tour and win the Rookie of the Year I think it was good for him, but it was probably more important for the rest of the players to think that there is some value to be involved with the junior series.”
Zane Scotland, a Team Faldo member last year, turned professional near the end of the 2003 European Tour season. Scotland, who qualified for the British Open in 1996 when he was 16, said his experience with Team Faldo was invaluable.
“It is always reassuring to know that Nick and his panel are on hand with valuable advice when it is most needed,” Scotland said. “The experience has been hugely beneficial, both to my game and to my appreciation of the sport at a professional level.”
As the success of the Series grows, so does its list of sponsors.
“I am supported by the R&A, the PGA, the European Tour and Nike is heavily involved,” Faldo said. “There are many different programs and I think European golf is doing quite well at the moment.”