CBS' hiring of Nick Faldo as its lead golf analyst probably is a smart move. Still, I can't help myself from thinking about all those athletes who used to hate the media so much during their playing days, only to change tunes when their playing abilities went south.
We've all got our own "favorites," for lack of a better word. Remember Jack Lambert? Bill Russell? Curtis Strange? Rob Dibble?
Even Barry Bonds now has a television show.
Faldo never sprayed reporters with bleach, a la Brent Saberhagen, or clammed up like a mute, a la Steve Carlton. But, his relationship with the press has often been extremely rocky.
There was the time, for example, he thanked his "close friends" in the press "from the heart of my bottom," after winning at Muirfield.
His fellow players weren't exactly wild about him, either. Faldo rarely spoke on the course and nourished a well-earned reputation for arrogance and aloofness.
"Playing with Nick Faldo is like playing by yourself — only slower," Mark Calcavecchia once said about Faldo.
Famed teacher David Leadbetter reportedly was angered by the way Faldo ended their long-term relationship — with a terse letter. Faldo had wanted him at a tournament at a time when Leadbetter was visiting his mother in England after the death of his father.
Then there was his personal life, in which he reportedly made more than a few enemies. Twice divorced, one of his former girlfriends battered his Porsche with a 9-iron, an incident the British press played up like a third world war.
Faldo slowly started re-joining the human race and talking to the press as he grew older — after he had business interests that needed publicity.
"He needs us to help him promote himself and his new business ventures, and he and his associates are working hard to demonstrate him in a new light and cultivate us," John Hopkins, a Faldo biographer and golf correspondent for the Times of London, told Golf Digest.
Faldo himself, now teetering at age 50, admits he hasn't always been the best human being. It seems to me a pretty convenient time for that sort of self-reflection.
Still, after having mentioned all this, he is thoroughly enjoyable as an analyst. He's witty and obviously knows the game. He won't be as outspoken as Johnny Miller, but he has already shown a willingness to take on golf's icons, criticizing Tiger Woods, for example.
In fact, he can be so darn charming on broadcasts, some wonder if it's the real Faldo.
After watching Faldo's work on the 2006 Ryder Cup Matches, for a United Kingdom network, Jim White of the Telegraph wrote: "He was clearly an impostor, because golf fans remember the real Faldo as a player of singular self-absorption, entirely wrapped up in his own game, a man so dour he seemed incapable of communication with a fellow human being ... "
Faldo himself, and some of his close associates, say this has been the real Faldo all along. Faldo has claimed he acted the way he did as an intimidation tactic when he was the best golfer of his generation, to gain an edge. Maybe. Or maybe he's just a real jerk who can turn the charm on and off at will.
In any case, you'll get plenty of chances to judge for yourself in the coming years, as Faldo probably will be the most-exposed golf analyst working.
CBS will be in its first year of a six-year contract with the PGA Tour next year, scheduled to broadcast 21 events. Faldo will team with Jim Nantz, and he'll also do work for the Golf Channel, which will televise the first three tournaments next year and the opening rounds of the others.
He'll also work on ABC for the British Open, as his contract calls for. That means he'll do color work for every major except the U.S. Open, which NBC and Miller will handle.
In the press conference announcing his hiring, Faldo said his strength is getting into the heads of pro golfers.
"I know what the players like," he said. "I know what they really do find difficult and all these sort of things. I think that's what I'm trying to bring, a little bit of insight to what's going on, the way they think.
"And obviously, I know what pressure is all about, as we call it: finishing off a tournament, what that takes at all the different levels. I guess it's just an insight into their minds and I think I can make a pretty good, calculated guess that how I felt is obviously how they would feel."
Well, not necessarily, but we'll see.
October 16, 2006
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