A Fateful Day and a Bond Forever

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The date ' Sunday, April 14, 1996. The place ' Augusta National. The event ' final round of the Masters. The characters ' Greg Norman and Nick Faldo.
 
What happened that day was quite possibly the single most remembered Sunday in Masters history. Norman had played a magnificent three rounds to build a six-shot lead going into the finale. But that was to all melt away to the man who had wormed his way into second place on the last hole Saturday of Round 3.
 
And by the 12th hole Sunday, it was all gone. By the 18th, Norman was in a state of shock after having shot 78 on a beautiful, calm, Augusta day. Faldo had grimly, gamely shot a 67 to win with ease, coasting home as the come-from-behind champion by five shots.
 
They teamed up last week in Naples, Fla., at Normans tournament, the Merrill Lynch Shootout. It doesnt matter where they finished (next to last.) What mattered was the image of them walking together, playing together, laughing and chatting together, a decade after that fateful day.
 
Norman denied that the pairing ' which he himself determined ' had anything to do with that spring day in 1996. But neither can deny what that day has meant in their careers.
 
Faldo is a private person who doesnt relish talking about the victory. But as I've said many a time, I genuinely felt for the guy on that day because, hey, that would have scarred me if it happened to me, he said. I blew a four-shot lead at Muirfield (in the 1987 British Open) and managed to clamber it back (to defeat television mate Paul Azinger by a shot.) At least I kind of knew what that felt like. Fortunately I haven't scarred myself in majors.
 
So that was a scar for him. I genuinely felt for the guy, and I thought he was certainly good enough (to win).
 
In 1996, Faldo obviously wasnt the golfer he had been he had been during his days as world No. 1, up until 1994. He knew he wasnt the same shot-maker. But what he still had was a champions mentality
 
That round was the best round of golf mentally I've ever played, he said, because I had to go through the process of every shot I stood over - every shot (I had) negative thoughts. The wheels are going to come off, start again. What do I want to do?
 
And I had to push myself through the process of playing a golf shot. It was like, Oh, wow, can I do it? I had to literally tick all the little things off to make it happen. So that for me was the best mental intensity I've ever given it.
 
The man renowned for his incredible focus suddenly had to focus like never before. And he had to do it while trying to defeat a Masters hero.
 
The whole sound of Augusta changed, Faldo said. We could sense what's going on - it's like you can't get involved with his emotion, you've got to stay in your own little world because if you pop out of your little world, you'll lose it.
 
Obviously few of us have been in that position in that arena where you realize that you can be so fragile between being so mentally tough and then something can happen and you just lose it. And one bad shot trickles off into the lake (as Norman's did on the 12th) and it's a snowball. You lose it for five seconds, and that can be Augusta gone for you.
 
Norman himself isnt the type to rehash a day like the 96 train wreck, though he found the week particularly revealing in one respect. Its interesting to hear how he (Faldo) felt, and obviously it was interesting for him to feel how I was feeling that day.

But if the two old protagonists dont particularly enjoy talking about the 96 Masters, they do enjoy talking about the skills of each other.
 
We had this incredible competitive rivalry, and I loved it because he was an intense guy to play against, said Norman. I said this on The Golf Channel show - he's a guy who would walk on the first tee, cut your heart out and hand it back to you at the end of the round. He was so intent on beating you.
 
And Faldo conceded that the popular conception of him as the ultimate loner was correct for a long time.
 
I always had the attitude that I held my cards close to my chest. I actually didn't want to socialize with golfers after a round because I just didn't want to talk golf. I liked to park it and leave it, he said.
 
So I think now 10 years on, I hope this is a great time. My golfing career is kind of winding down now, and I think if we can sit down at the end of the day and be able to shoot the breeze and take the mickey out of each other now that it's all over, why not?
 
For me, being a competitor was part of your life. But you move on, and I really like to live in the now time.
 
Norman conceded that the mystery of Faldo the Solitary Champion made him want to extend the invitation to his tournament, if for nothing more than getting to really know the guy who had been his No. 1 rival for a decade.

When I was sitting back thinking about it, I said, 'You know, life is too short. I haven't really understood Nick as a person, as a friend, and he probably doesn't know me as a person and as a friend, either.' I said, Why not? Life is too short.
 
I thought about that when I spoke to Chris Evert about it, and I thought, You know what, who was my greatest rival out there? It was Faldo. Why were we great rivals? We were great golfers.' Being great golfers doesn't necessarily need to make you great friends.
 
Now life has changed. He's off in the business world, I'm off in the business world, and quite honestly, we've got a lot to talk about. We've got a lot of time to catch up on.
 
So Norman placed the call, asking Faldo if Faldo would be his partner.

You could hear this pregnant pause at the end of the line, said Norman, laughing. I think he was pleasantly surprised.
 
Sometimes you've got to reach out, and sometimes youre - I'm glad I did it.
 
Faldo says hes sorry that he had to play golf the way he did, with a single-minded outlook which permitted him to play at a championship level but closed out completely his fellow competitors.
 
This is me now, he says. When I was a competitor, that was me then, and that was the only way I knew how to deal with it.
 
I wish, as we all do - wish you knew then what you know now. I wish I had the ability to go in and out of having fun if something happens, being able to respond to that and then click back into my golf. I didn't.
 
Obviously people got portrayed, Well, look at this miserable bugger on the golf course, he must be like that all the time. So I got that reputation, and I wasn't. Yes, I was committed to golf, but you have to be if you want anything from - if you're building a business or a sportsman, you've got to be committed.
 
But OK, this is me now. As you can hear me talk, that was then, this is the new lifestyle now. I love my life ... It's as simple as that, you know.