A critical call led to victory at the 1996 Masters
George Cathay (Icon) Faldo File
| Credit: George Cathay (Icon)

This will be my second April going to the Masters as a broadcaster, not a player. Being at Augusta and not competing is a different experience—you can really enjoy the atmosphere. Up in the booth I still see the action through a player’s eyes, which helps me decipher what guys are trying to do. That’s the challenge: to get inside a player’s head at key moments.

An example of that from my own playing days came on the thirteenth hole during the final round in 1996, the year of my last Masters title. Greg Norman and I were on the fairway, and Ken Venturi was up in the booth, not quite realizing what was going on between me and my caddie, Fanny Sunesson, on the second shot. I can’t blame him, because what transpired was pretty unusual. In fact I’ve always considered it one of the great bits of suspense I ever experienced in tournament golf.

Greg’s ball was up ahead of mine. He had a clear shot to the green, but he was on the pine straw. My ball was on a sidehill lie above my feet. The lie was a bit downhill, as well. At that point I had taken the lead by two, and Greg faced a tough call about whether to go for the green—it’s dicey playing a shot over the creek from those pine needles. When Fanny and I walked out to the ball, we both were thinking five-wood was the club. I had 232 yards to the pin and 208 to the very front of the green. This five-wood of mine would consistently carry 210 to 215 yards, and it flew higher than a long iron, so I could land it softer. It was a great little metal five-wood, a Mizuno T-Zoid, if you remember those, and I had put it in the bag just for the Masters. I had carried it around all week, but there we were on Sunday on the back nine and I had only hit it once. Which was strange, because during practice rounds I was hitting it constantly. On every fairway I would say to Fanny, “Okay, where’s the five-wood shot?” And she’d throw down a ball at 210 and I’d fire away.

And so, as she was giving me the yardages there on thirteen, it was obvious five-wood was the club. Except for one problem: I couldn’t sole it properly. I set it down behind the ball, and when I lightened my grip, the clubface tilted shut. I set it down again and the face fell open a bit. Because of the lie, the club wouldn’t sit square for me. So right away a voice in my head said, “No, mate, you don’t want any part of this. Go get the iron.”

I stepped toward the bag, and Fanny looked at me like: What’s the problem?

She hadn’t noticed the club not addressing properly, so she’d started to wonder if the old nerves were coming on. I looked her in the eye and said: “I’m all right.” Then I pulled the two-iron and asked her to give me the numbers again. I didn’t need them, but I needed her to go through them because that was our routine. Then I put the two-iron down, and being a thin blade it sat up just fine. I gave it a full belt and just nailed the shot, which finished about thirty feet from the hole. From there I two-putted for the four. It was as satisfying a two-iron as I’ve ever hit.

A year later I was watching a tape of that Masters and got a chuckle hearing Venturi’s commentary. He was watching our conversation and saw me going back and forth to the bag, and he figured something was badly amiss. “They don’t have a plan,” he’s saying on the tape. “Faldo doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing out there.” In fact we just had a lot of things to work through, one by one. We kept at it until we got it all sorted out.

Nick Faldo’s witty insights about golf and candid assessments of fellow Tour professionals can be heard on the following scheduled telecasts:

March 13–14, Arnold Palmer Invitational, Bay Hill (Golf Channel)

March 20–21, WGC-CA Championship, Doral (Golf Channel)

March 27–28, Zurich Classic of New Orleans, TPC Louisiana (Golf Channel)

April 10–13, The Masters, Augusta National (CBS)

April 19–20, Verizon Heritage, Harbour Town (CBS)

April 24–27, EDS Byron Nelson Championship, TPC Four Seasons Resort Las Colinas (Golf Channel and CBS)

It’s been eight years since a European player won the Masters: Tiger and Phil and a few others have kept any Europeans from slipping into the green jacket. It doesn’t seem long ago that Europe dominated at Augusta—we won eight titles from 1983 to 1994. First was Seve Ballesteros, then Bernhard Langer, followed by Sandy Lyle, me, Ian Woosnam, then José María Olazábal. There was a fair bit of European pride coming on at that time, including our newfound Ryder Cup success. We had a tradition of getting together at Augusta and taking a photo in front of the clubhouse. Dave Cannon, a British photographer, would set us up and shoot it. We were proud of what that picture represented. (Coincidentally, the U.S. dollar was in a weak phase against the pound, so our money on the PGA European Tour was getting closer to U.S. Tour purses. When you’re trying to measure up, even that means something.)

Here are a few current Euro stars to watch at this year’s Masters.

Paul Casey

My first thought is that he’s not quite ready, although he is starting to enjoy the intensity of a major.

Luke Donald

Has great touch in his short game. He’s also got consistency, so you can’t count him out.

Sergio García

I would watch Sergio to see if his emotions are harnessed properly.

Padraig Harrington Keep an eye on him: Winning this Masters is a real possibility for Padraig.

Justin Rose

I’m sure the experience of feeling the Sunday-afternoon, back-nine pressure last year will be invaluable in ’08.

A lot is said about Augusta National’s bunkering, but not much is said about the actual sand, which is really crushed white stone. For one thing, there’s the brightness. When I first played there, I went to practice sand shots on a sunny afternoon, and five minutes along my head was throbbing. The glare can overpower you—it was my first time on a course thinking I absolutely had to wear sunglasses. The sand has a thin layer of softness on top and then it’s superfirm underneath. You have to thump hard on this subsurface, which is why you see such big swings in the bunkers. And there’s a lot of friction—it’s like playing a wedge shot off emery paper. It forces you to be aggressive and delicate at the same time.