Hour after hour, Nick Faldo prepares. He hits balls on the practice range, tweaks his clubs and tests out new ones from the equipment trailer, plays the tournament course at the TPC at Sawgrass, hits more balls on the range, and concludes with chipping and putting.
Faldo works so hard just to break par because he has to. Hes 47. Not even the blond highlights in his hair can hide his age - the crows feet around his eyes give that away.
Faldo is now better at talking about golf than playing it; though hell never be as good a commentator as he was a player ' its just not possible. Faldo once ruled golf. He sat atop the golfing world for 98 consecutive weeks. He was the greatest major champion of his time.
He shared his prime with the likes of Greg Norman and Nick Price and Fred Couples. And he won as many majors as the three of them combined. Three of those six came at Augusta National, site of this weeks Masters Tournament.
Nick Faldo now figuratively stands with his figurative torch ready to figuratively pass it on to the next great English champion.
And there are plenty of possible heirs at the moment.
Yeah, it looks good for us right now, doesnt it? Faldo said.
A year ago at this time there were three English players ranked inside the top 50 on the Official World Golf Ranking. Two years ago, one.
Three years ago this week, Lee Westwood was the only English player ranked inside the top 80 in the world. And Faldo, who hadnt won an official event since the 1997 Nissan Open, was still the third-highest-ranked player from his country.
Currently, there are five players in the top 50 and eight in the top 100. It might not seem like much, but England trails only the U.S. and Australia in terms of representatives in the top 100 on the OWGR.
Theres quite a lot of good, young British guys out there. Its really, really good. It shows were doing something right in Britain, said 22-year-old Nick Dougherty, who is ranked at No. 147.
I think that America has dominated, you know, as far as the youthful players go. So its good that weve got a few of our own kicking some butt, he said.
The best number concerning those British butt-kickers isnt five (of 50) or eight (of 100); its 20 ' as in most of those players are still in their 20s. And none of those eight are older than 33.
Its a tremendous group, said Paul Casey. Were all very good friends. We want to do as good as we can do, and I think we sort of push each other.
It all starts with Luke Donald.
The 27-year-old has been a fixture ' and a standout ' in the States since he was dominating the collegiate scene at Northwestern University. He turned professional in 2001 and took the Q-school bus straight to the PGA Tour.
He captured the weather-shortened Southern Farm Bureau Classic in his rookie year of 2002 and has never finished worse than 90th in earnings in three full seasons. He and Casey teamed to win last years World Cup.
This year, he has already accrued over $1.3 million, courtesy of runner-up finishes at the Buick Invitational and The Players Championship.
Hes the highest ranked of the new crop at No. 16.
I want to be ranked in the top 10 in the world by the end of the year. I want to win again out here on the U.S. tour, Donald said.
I feel more confident in myself. I go out believing I can win every event, and I think that mindset has a reason for changing your golf, too.
The next Englishman in the world ranking order is The Man Who Could Have Been King.
For a brief period of time in the late 1990s, Lee Westwood was not only the best player from all of the U.K.; he was arguably the best player on the planet. Beginning with the 1997 Volvo Masters, the season-ending event on the European Tour, Westwood won 20 tournaments around the world in just three years time, including the Freeport-McDermott Classic on the PGA Tour.
He ascended to as high as fourth in the world, and then descended almost as quickly ' and quite more inexplicably ' to outside of the top 250.
After spending three years in the depths of a golfing hell only David Duval could mutually describe, Westwood began his resurrection in mid-2003 with a pair of wins on the European Tour.
Hes now all the way back to 26th in the world.
I just think these things are roundabout. They come and go.
Ebb and flow, thats all it is, said Casey. I think its what I knew and what a lot of the other guys knew, that there was going to be a lot of guys coming through.
The tide has definitely turned in favor of the English golfer. And instead of just one ' a Faldo or a Westwood - there are several cheering options for the English fan. The group is rather eclectic.
I think its good. There are guys who like to watch (Ian) Poulter play and not me, or me and not Poulter. I think its healthy. It sort of frees the competitiveness between the group as well. Were all really, really good friends, but were highly competitive as well, Casey said.
Theres a little bit more to the players these days. Its good to have some personality up there, said Dougherty.
Westwood agrees with that line of thinking ' that diversity in numbers is better for the viewing audience. But he adds with a smile, Id still rather dominate.
Casey was the dominating Englishman for a little while ' at least in terms of controversy and negative press. But whats often overlooked is that fact that before he became a media and gallery whipping boy in the U.S., he briefly held the mantle as the top-ranked Briton.
The 27-year-old from Cheltenham is still hovering about at 35th, and already has a victory this season. He captured the European Tours TCL Classic in China just three weeks ago.
Rounding out the English contingency in the top 50 are Poulter (41) and David Howell (50).
Despite the fact that the 29-year-old Howell has won on the European Tour and was a member of last years victorious European Ryder Cup team, put a wig on his head and American fans couldnt tell him apart from a Member of Parliament.
Poulter on the other hand
Theres no one quite like Poulter, said Casey. Hes certainly got flair.
Poulter has earned worldwide recognition for his flair. The shaggy, bed-head look ' which is meticulously prepared ' combined with the outrageous colors and prints on his shirts and pants have made the 29-year-old undeniably different.
The garb is so garish at times, however, that it detracts attention away from his impressive talents.
A Ryder Cup team member in 2004, Poulter has six career European Tour victories and has won at least once in each of the past five full seasons east of the Atlantic. He advanced to the quarterfinals of last years WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship and improved upon that performance this year by making it to the semis.
I don't think my clothes are taking anything away from the golf, Poulter said.
I don't like the way most people dress on the golf course. My personality is not like that and I want to be slightly different.
Brian Davis (82), Justin Rose (88) and Greg Owen (98) are the final three Englishmen currently situated inside the top 100 in the world.
Davis, 30, was the medalist at Q-school last year. He led after the first round of this years Nissan Open, and ultimately tied for third in the rain-reduced event.
The week before, Owen, 33, finished third at Pebble Beach.
And Rose ' youre probably all-too-familiar with his story. But just in case youre not: as a 17-year-old amateur he pitched in from 45 yards on the 72nd hole of the 1998 British Open at Royal Birkdale to tie for fourth. He then turned pro and subsequently missed his first 22 cuts. He went on to rebound with four worldwide wins in 2002 and has spent the last two years playing full time on the PGA Tour. The now 24-year-old even led after 36 holes of last years Masters.
Then there's 39-year-old Paul Broadhurst, who ended a decade-long winless streak on the European Tour by capturing last week's Estoril Open over, among others, fellow Englishman Barry Lane.
Its funny, said Davis, because a few years ago the British press was saying English golf is in dire straits, weve got no one up since Faldo. OK, the guys havent won a major, maybe, but I would fancy the chances of one of us, especially me, winning a major. Theres quite a lot of good English players right now.
To that, Faldo agrees: Weve got a lot of good guys who are all playing well ' theyre competing hard.
But as to whether or not any of them will end Englands major drought, which dates back to Faldos 1996 Masters triumph, the man himself remains in doubt.
Editors Note: Part 2 will focus on the chances of an English player winning a major in the near future (Read Part 2), as well how most of the top English players are now calling the U.S. their home away from home.
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