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A Walk Down the Path of Those Young Years

One of the things that I do that really gives me great pleasure is working with younger golfers. I am presently in Orlando working with a group of boys and girls at my Faldo Golf Institute by Marriott. The group is a part of the Faldo Junior Series, a program I started in 1996 to both identify and nurture the next generation of champions.
Working with the juniors always takes me back to when I first started to play this game. I remember before I ever played how I watched the 1971 Masters on television - the way it looked, and everything was so green and beautiful. I was into all kinds of sports that a young teenage boy can play ' cycling, swimming, all those things ' but I really hadnt thought much about golf until then.
I got the bug just watching television. The very next day I was hitting balls on the school's playing field. It was the Easter holiday, and Ive been in love with the game ever since.
I would make the schoolyard my practice area at first. I used to hit balls into the long-jump pit. That was my target. I would hit balls towards that area until I could get them in their most of the time.
A neighbor lent me a 7- and 8-iron at first, and then my parents bought me a half-set of clubs ' come to think of it, they were called St. Andrews, which I guess is quite funny. It was just a cheap set, but I used them over and over when I was first learning. I played my first round of golf on my 14th birthday ' July 18, 1971.
Anyway, the day after the Masters in 71, I went down to the Welwyn Garden City Golf Club ' my hometown outside of London ' and booked lessons. My first teacher was an assistant pro, Chris Arnold, who gave me six lessons. He was a big help, obviously, he really got me started. Then he passed me along to Ian Connally, who was the head pro there. I worked with him, oh, for about 10 years or so.
I realize I was a relatively late starter. Most kids who make it as a professional start younger, at 10 or so. But I got good rather quickly. My first handicap card showed I was playing to about a 12. It was my own sporting ability, I guess, but I started hitting a lot of balls straightaway. I practiced for three months before I ever went out on a golf course, I think that was one thing that was really important.
Within a year, I was really hooked on it. My mother took me all over the country to tournaments ' my father, who was an accountant, had to work. Eventually I became old enough to drive myself, but until then, me and mum drove the countryside.
I left school at 16, in the summer of 73. Basically, I lived on the practice ground for the next two years. And 1975 was my big amateur year, when I started winning some really big tournaments at the age of 18. Within four years of first picking up a club, I won the British Amateur. Within six years, I was a professional and playing for Great Britain in the '77 Ryder Cup.
I must have played with Sandy Lyle the first time at the 74 English Boys tournament. He was from Shrewsbury in the west of England and we had some memorable matches when we were young. He played for England then, even though he is of Scottish descent ' I think he was Englands captain, as a matter of fact. We were just about the best English boys around, and I guess some of those matches are still talked about today.
By 75, the next year, I played off a 3 handicap. I won the British Amateur, the Berkshire Trophy, the British Youths, English Champion of Champions, and a big tournament in South Africa where I met Gary Player. I got to play a couple of holes with Gary, because he was the great ambassador.
Actually, though, Gary wasnt the first superstar I met. I remember earlier in 75 I tried to qualify for the (British) Open at Carnoustie ' I was 17 at the time, I think. I didnt make it. But at the British Amateur I had met the man who was to caddy for Lee Trevino at the Open. And he told me, Hey, Ill get you a round with Lee.
I said, How are you going to do that? He said, Because Im the boss!
So the deal was, if I made it, I could play a practice round with Lee. And I was really sick because I didnt make it. But I was standing on the first tee when Lee showed up for his practice round, and the caddy saw me.
He must have saw me looking really disappointed, and he said, Dont worry, you can still walk with him. So I walked around next to his bag all day.
That was fantastic. I walked with Lee for those three days, and he was really incredible. He showed me how to putt, all sorts of things. In those days, you could walk next to the player. And Lee really provided an insight into what golf at this level was all about.
When I turned pro the next year, in 1976, there really wasnt any player I could look up to or help me out with those little things that every pro needs to know ' or at least I didnt know how to go about asking. I basically did my own thing and just learned as I went along.
That basically is what Im trying to do with these kids now. Im passing on to them what I have learned for the last 25 years or so, all my knowledge. All Im telling them is to bring their talent and dedication, and within my team we know everything about how to build a champion golfer.
I try to give them everything ' I talked to them the other day about, You will probably find something you like in a golf shot that will fit you. And that will probably stay with you your whole career.
Ive played with the same shot for 20 years now. Once you find something thats a fit with your own body tempo, its very difficult to change. It becomes natural, and its something that you can rely on when the pressure gets really immense and you need something to bail you out.
I really hope the youngsters can get something out of this. As I said, I really didnt have anyone inside the game to guide me through the pitfalls. Maybe this program will make the journey through to the top a little easier. The steps along the way are certainly exciting.