2005: Jolly new Nick

Orlando, Fla.

Nick Faldo says he hasn’t reinvented himself, but let’s not get caught up in semantics. Whatever you want to call it, he has transformed from distant, grim-faced, single-minded golf champion to witty, charming ABC-TV golf analyst. Wine doesn’t mellow this much. If he lets his hair down an inch more, it will touch the floor. That is saying something for a once unapproachable golfer who seemed to embrace the social realm of relationships as if it were a root canal.

Occupation has much to do with the blooming of the new Faldo. The required skills are different. Before, he paid himself by hitting precise golf shots, and external forms were distractions. Speaking served no purpose to him then. Now he’s being paid to talk, something he rarely did while playing.

“I knew him for close to 20 years and never heard him really speak a full sentence,” said Paul Azinger, Faldo’s booth sidekick, also in his first full year with ABC. “But now he’s personable and outgoing and approachable.”

Faldo uses a door as a prop in explaining the shift. His door used to be closed. Now it’s open, with a sign inviting people to look in.

“I’m just relaxing and letting it come out,” the Englishman said during a lengthy, candid interview. “This is me off the golf course. I’ve always been a different person there and it’s never been portrayed. The way I was perceived before was me on the golf course. That’s the way I felt was best for me to operate – head down, blinkers on. I found I needed to stay in that ultra-focused mode to be successful, so that’s what I did. That was best for me.

“If there were distractions, I didn’t have the ability to deal with them well, so I’d just get myself in the zone and stay there.”

Some players can concentrate one minute and crack a joke the next in competition. Faldo never had two gears.

“I could not switch it on and off,” he said. “I wish I could have. I felt the minute I got to the range and started hitting balls, I was in my comfort zone and that was it. You’re there on a mission. You’re not there to wave and smile. Walking from green to tee, I wanted to stay in the same mode, head down. When you walk by someone you know and they’re looking at you and you’re not looking at them, it does give the impression you’re rude. Some people don’t understand it. It’s black or white – you’re a nice guy or an arse. There’s no gray area.”

Driven sportsmen tend to become more human when they pass their prime, largely because their intensity lessens. Expectations drop when you’re nearly 48 and a part-time player who hasn’t won or finished better than 142nd in PGA Tour earnings since 1997.

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