Clubbing with Faldo

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 January, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 January, 2005, 12:00am

First I made sure that Nick Faldo didn't have any bricks in his bag and only then did I check that he had no more than the allowed 14 clubs when I arrived to caddie for the golfing great at Fanling.

The six-times Major winner, someone had warned me before I started my stint at the Faldo Series International Trophy showpiece at Hong Kong Golf Club, had once snuck a brick and a few dozen extra balls into his bag when a British golf writer had spent a day caddying for him for a story.

So bricks, not birdies, were on my mind when I joined the 47-year-old and some of the world's finest young players for 18 holes on the Eden Course at Fanling.

Faldo, winner of three British Open crowns and three US Masters green jackets in his heyday, was treating the category winners in the Series to a round with him after the tournament proper had ended. So teeing up along with him on Friday were England's Ben Evans, Ajeetesh Sandhu of India, Taiwan's Ruby Tseng and Jayvie Agojo of the Philippines.

I had caddied for a friend before in an amateur tournament in the United States, where I hardly distinguished myself. On the very first hole, Bill Greene Jnr, a wealthy Tennessee banker, threw his ball to me for cleaning as I headed towards the flagstick. I missed the little white missile, which rolled towards a lake, and I had to scamper back quickly to stop it disappearing into the depths.

But the closest that I had come to the real thing in the pro ranks was listening to stories by Peter Coleman, Bernhard Langer's caddie for 22 years, over dinner during the Million Dollar Challenge in South Africa some years ago. I can hardly count helping Alfred 'Rabbit' Dyer, who toted Gary Player's bag for 20 years, find his trademark Panama hat when he lost it at a tournament some years before.

In the past, Faldo had earned a reputation for being grumpy after being given a hard time by Britain's tabloid newspapers during his glory days. And although I heard that Faldo had mellowed as the years rolled by, I approached my task at Fanling warily.

There was no way he was going to start the day with more than 14 clubs in his bag; a mistake by Ian Woosnam's caddie in the British Open that potentially cost the Welsh wizard #220,000 in prize money and a place on the Ryder Cup team.

Although Woosnam sacked his caddie, my job for the day at Hong Kong Golf Club appeared safe considering that it was a fairly easy-going affair. But I certainly didn't want to start off on the wrong foot.

So, after Faldo and the winning quartet cracked their drives down the first fairway on the Eden course, I trudged along, lugging a fairly heavy bag, intent on keeping a clean sheet.

To do this I needed to avoid dropping the towel (he didn't have one, so Evans offered a spare), head cover or putter cover. Other errors would be standing in the wrong place at the wrong time, taking a snap with my camera at the top of his backswing, chatting to someone while he played a shot, forgetting to rake bunkers, clean his ball and clubs and allowing the irons to clink too much as I walked.

I must admit that Faldo treated me gently. The Englishman was more concerned with giving helpful tips to his charges. The only time that I earned a reprimand was for failing to join the players on the tee at the 17th. I was too busy chatting to officials 20 yards away, his bag at my side, while Faldo, waiting to play his shot, was left standing empty-handed. 'Caddies have been fired for less,' he barked as I stumbled up the steps as fast as my legs would carry me.

While a couple of the youngsters didn't get into the swing of things early on, Sandhu, who lives near New Delhi, set the course alight. 'You're like hot tamales,' said an impressed Faldo after India's top-ranked amateur made five birdies in the first 10 holes.

'Wrong day,' responded Sandhu, who finished runner-up in the overall stakes in the Series tournament and won the under-18 category.

Evans, from Sussex, who won the Series' main trophy and earned a place on Team Faldo, didn't get going as fast as he would have liked. The youngster, who went five under par in the first six holes on his way to a record-breaking 65 in the first round of the Series tournament, could only look on enviously as Sandhu stole the limelight.

Delighted that he had been given a spot on Team Faldo, where he could take advantage of extra professional help in the game, Evans disclosed that the clubs which delivered the 65 would be ditched. 'They aren't set up right for me,' he said, 'and I am changing to another brand.'

Tseng, who beat Michelle Wie one up in the final of last June's US Public Links Amateur Championships, spluttered at the start as did Agojo. But both impressed later, particularly Tseng, who belted the ball prodigious distances when she clicked.

Faldo was having trouble of his own, which made my job a great deal tougher. I had strained a ligament in my right knee a week or so before during a 25km hike along the MacLehose Trail, so Nick's wayward ways didn't help. His failure to stay on the straight and narrow made my trek much longer. 'First I hit right and then I hit it left,' he groaned. 'I feel like I am hitting it like a 100-year-old man.'

Faldo, who said that his hip was hurting, nearly ran out of golf balls after losing a number and had to dig deep in the bag to find the few left here.

Used to being recognised far and wide, Faldo was given a shock when we reached the tea house just after the halfway mark. While the players were choosing what they wanted to eat and drink, the waitresses were wondering who would be paying. Faldo said: 'Put this all on the Faldo Series bill.'

The instruction drew a blank. 'But who are you?' asked one of the waitresses, clearly no golf fan. 'Nick Faldo, I'm the boss,' he said as bemused officials and players looked on.

The failure to recognise one of the greats of the game didn't faze Faldo, who departed more concerned about the way he had been striking the ball.

Later, after I had carried the bag off the 18th green, Ali McCullough, of the Hong Kong Golf Association, asked Faldo how I had done. 'He moved like lightning,' he said. And I sped off before he could direct another bolt my way.