British Royalty

By Mercer BaggsJuly 16, 2003, 4:00 pm
SANDWICH, England ' Lesson No. 1: I take cash.
Thats what Nick Faldo taught Great Britains stable of young thoroughbreds in a practice round for the 132nd Open Championship.
Faldo played Tuesday with Justin Rose, Ian Poulter and Paul Casey. He and Casey, who turns 26 Monday, fleeced Rose, soon to be 24, and Poulter, 27.
They lost quite a few bets, exclaimed Faldo, which was wonderful.
Faldo will turn a ripe 46 Friday. Hes six years removed from his last victory, seven from his final major. But hes not about to settle into the pasture just yet. Especially when an event of this magnitude is taking place on a course such as Royal St. Georges.
This is a true links, he said. It requires landing the ball in the right area and having a lot of imagination.
I would think a course like this is going to give me a better percentage, a better chance.
And, like all the great ones, he still believes he can win.
Obviously the odds are slimmer now, but you never know, he said. When I hit my good shots theyre very good.
And this has been labeled a shot-maker's course. Its one on which Faldo feels Europeans can thrive, namely the likes of those he practiced with Tuesday.
I think this years a good year, the way the course is set up, to give home players or European players a really good chance, he said.
Im sure there will be a few of them (young Brits) competing this week. I would say its all part of the learning curve, how well they do, how long they stay in there ' can they stay in there? Thats the questions theyll be asking themselves. But this is a great opportunity for them.
Rose, Poulter and Casey have combined to play in seven Open Championships. By contrast, Faldo has won six majors in all, three in this event ' at Muirfield in 1987 and 92, and at St. Andrews in 90. He is making his 28th Open appearance ' his fourth at this venue.
I must be getting old. I cant remember 1981, Faldo quipped.
He also suffers a memory lapse when trying to recall playing this course in 1993 ' at least where the hazards are concerned.
I cant remember. I was never in the rough, he replied when asked how the thick grass compares to that of a decade ago.
Its been 10 years since Faldo nearly defended his Open title at RSG. He shared the 54-hole lead with Corey Pavin. And despite shooting 67 on Sunday, was trumped by Greg Normans 64.
He finished runner-up that year. He tied for 11th in his Sandwich debut in 81 and tied for 53rd in 85.
Its improbable ' but not impossible ' that Open crown No. 4 will come this time. But if not Faldo, perhaps one of the countrymen who idolize him.
Hes the greatest ever British player in terms of the majors hes won. And thats what it boils down to, said Rose. He represents a benchmark, something to aim at.
Rose literally burst onto the scene when he holed his approach shot on the 72nd hole to tie for fourth as an amateur in the 1998 Open at Royal Birkdale.
That brings back wonderful memories, Rose said Wednesday. Thats what Im striving for, is to see my name on the top of the yellow leaderboard one day.
He turned professional that Monday. But though he was now playing for pay, he wasnt making money.
Rose missed his first 22 cuts as a pro. He slowly turned things around, and finally cashed in by winning four times around the world in 2002.
Other Brits have showed similar promise.
Poulter has won three times on the European Tour, including this years Celtic Manor Resort Wales Open. Casey, an amateur standout and Arizona State All-American, also has a trio of victories on his home circuit. The highest ranked Englishman, at 28th on the Official World Golf Ranking, captured the 2003 ANZ Championship and Benson & Hedges International.
If you see a couple of the young guys play really well, you feel like you want to keep up, Rose said when queried about a rivalry between the lot. I think Ian and I probably have the best rivalry/camaraderie between the two of us. And thats the ideal scenario, where you get along on and off the course.
Theres some great young lads playing golf now, said Poulter. Theres a handful of other guys that have great potential.
Like Luke Donald, who won the Southern Farm Bureau Classic last year on the PGA Tour.
Were very fortunate we have a number of young players that well see coming through, and I think its great, said Scotlands Colin Montgomerie. Im sure one or two of them will perform very well.
Theyre practicing harder, theyre fitter, and theres no reason why they shouldnt.
And theyre learning from the best. Nick Dougherty, dubbed Little Nick, is a notable product of the Nick Faldo Junior Series, which cultivates young European talent.
The goal is to create as many players of all age groups coming through, Faldo explained. Rather than one golfer coming on tour every couple of years, it would be great if it was one every year and then two every year and maybe three or four.
Who knows what you can create out of those playersa better percentage of potential major winners.
That's what Rose and the rest have designs on becoming. Rose missed a great opportunity last year. After barely making the cut at Muirfield, he went out early Saturday and avoided the tyrannous acts of Mother Nature. He shot 68 in Round 3 to get within three of the lead at days end. However, he stumbled home Sunday in 1-over 72 to tie for 22nd.
I didnt take on the challenge that day. I didnt feel I was ready. If that situation came around again, I would feel a lot more at ease with thinking I could win the Open Championship, he said.
Youve really got to jump and seize your chances, and you cant let your chances like that go begging or not feel like youre ready for them, because who knows when your next realistic chance is going to come along. If it does happen, you have to grab it with both hands.
Just like Nick Faldo did ' six times. And counting?
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