There was a time when Faldo and the Ryder Cup were synonymous. Having one without the other didn't compute. You figured there would be that tall, quiet form wearing the European colors forever. After his days as a player finally ended, he would make the logical leap to the captain's chair. After he had been in charge for, oh, say 15 years, he would step down to considerable fanfare and collect all the honors due to a man of his worthy stature.
That, of course, hasn't exactly been the case. First Faldo came to live in the United States. That was prior to the '95 season, six years ago. That in itself angered some of Europe's old guard. He won Doral in '95, the Masters for the third time in '96, L.A. early in '97.
But then, he found he suddenly couldn't win. In fact, he found he could scarcely make a cut.
Back to the Ryder Cup - in 1995 and '97, he was a wild-card pick for the Europeans while playing mostly in America. In '95 Faldo got a crucial singles point against Curtis Strange, in '97 he was the steadying influence on a bunch of kids who defeated the Americans.
And in '99, when he wasn't selected, it was almost heresy.
Nick Faldo had played in every Ryder Cup since 1977, a record 11 times. He played in 46 matches, a record, and he won 23 times, yet another record. And yet, when he wrote a congratulatory note to the '99 European captain, it wasn't even shown to the team. It ended up, of all places, in the trashcan.
Faldo had hoped to make that '99 team, but in all honesty he didn't have a chance. You see, by now he had too many wayward things going on in his life . a nasty divorce, a May-December romance with a college girl 20 years his junior, another romance when that one got evil. He had gotten involved in a golf design business. His personal life was, well, dodgy. And on the course, he just couldn't cut it - 147th in driving distance in 2000, 157th in greens is regulation, 171st in putting.
He's endured just about everything as he went slip sliding down the world rankings. There was the split with coach David Leadbetter. There was the tip from famed Australian Norm Van Nida, which wasn't the magic elixir, after all. He parted company with Chip Koehlke, the instructor at his Orlando golf facility, and a couple more since then. There was the loss of caddy Fanny Sunesson and the messy breakup he had with Adams Golf when he was supposed to have a lifetime contract.
However, he never gave up his Ryder Cup dream, and suddenly, there's a ray of hope. He finished third in the Alfred Dunhill Cup last week in South Africa, beaten only by the two youthful lads, Adam Scott and Justin Rose. Suddenly there was hope. Maybe at 43, he can still hit the hole.
'It's been four years since I won an individual event (the Nissan Open at Los Angeles), so it's been awhile,' he said. 'It does play on your mind and you start wondering what it feels like to put yourself in that position again.'
With limited play on the European Tour (the Dunhill counted toward the European side), Faldo realizes his odds of earning enough points for the team are not good. 'It will have to be down to great play,' he said. 'That's the bottom line. If I still play great in big events - that's what I'm gearing myself up for - I still have a chance.'
Faldo said earlier in the week that the course design business had become quite lucrative and the golfing schedule would have to fit in with the design work. But his play in South Africa put a flicker of doubt in his mind.
'I'm not sure,' he said, realizing that in order to be a championship player, he couldn't be occupied every day with the architect business.
'But I certainly enjoyed myself today. I'm really pleased. I kept going forward and learned a lot. There were just a few tight swings, but all in all, that was way above what I expected for week one. Who knows what might happen?'
He was, of course, referring to his Ryder Cup chances. But he should be optimistic. Europe's forgotten man may yet have a little golf left in him.