Door to greatness could Open to Faldo on Pebble Beach links

June 17, 1992|By Jeff Williams | Jeff Williams,Newsday

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- Nick Faldo is a man on the edge.

Sometimes it's the edge of greatness. Sometimes it's the edge of a razor blade.

Having won four majors in the last five years -- two British Opens and two Masters -- Faldo is as close to great as any golfer in the past 10 years, certainly since Tom Watson burned out prematurely in the mid-'80s.

Yet even Faldo would say he's a blade of grass, maybe two, from being truly great. There's the U.S. Open to win and when it starts here at the Pebble Beach Golf Links tomorrow Faldo will be among the favorites for the title. "This is Priority One," Faldo said. "It would look good on the letterhead, wouldn't it?"

Faldo was jovial and jocular yesterday, attributes that are seldom, if ever, ascribed to him. It often seems that he's sitting on a razor blade when he talks of himself and his game. Indeed, the razor blade of greatness is what drives him, what keeps him from ever being comfortable with his play, keeps him fidgeting with his swing until he finds whatever perfection he can achieve in this imperfect game.

After a mediocre 1991, Faldo started to retool with his now-famous coach, David Leadbetter. So far 1992 has been good. He won the Irish Open and has four other top-five finishes on the European tour. In five tries on the American tour his best finish has been second in the Tour Players Championship.

"I retuned my swing from last September on," Faldo said. "I did a lot of work with David. I've been trying to make the swing look natural, but to make it look natural you have to go through a lot of adjustments. Now I really feel I have a swing instead of pieces of movements."

These little changes in the swing have even allowed him to say that playing golf is fun, a word not often associated with Faldo's game. "I'm enjoying my golf because every week I'm learning a little bit more," Faldo said. "And it's working."

Faldo has the right combination working this week to win his first U.S. Open: He's got the right swing and he's got the right course.

"I think this is the best U.S. Open course I've played," he said. "There's so much character to it. You've got to be in the right spots at the right times. . . . It's pretty impressive."

Pebble Beach has the U.S. Golf Association's signature growth of rough, four inches of it, though it could seem like a foot when you're buried in it. The Monterey Peninsula often can be a rough place to play the game, with haymaker winds roaring off the Pacific in a storm. Saturday there were gusts of 30 mph.

But even if you avoid the rough, and the wind is merely a puff, there are the greens, which in color are far closer to brown. "The greens are very quick," Faldo said. "Whoever said they are 10.5 [on stimpmeter], they aren't even close . . . There are a couple of greens that are nearly all brown. You can't find a patch of green on them."

To Faldo, the USGA must strike a delicate balance between the speed of the greens and their ultimate playability. "They've got to make sure that good shots are rewarded," he said. "If a good shot bounces off the back of the green, what the hell can we do?"

The conditions definitely favor Faldo. He came here last Thursday and has played four practice rounds, taking Sunday off to run up to Vancouver, British Columbia, to see his friend Phil Collins in concert. He seems as relaxed as a man on a razor blade could possibly be.

"I've played well in Europe the last five weeks," he said. "Hopefully nothing has changed."

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