If you have ever wondered what separated Sir Nick Faldo from the rest, what elevated the boy from Welwyn Garden City to a place among world golf’s sporting legends, stand on a practice ground with the Masters and Open champion and all is revealed, writes Vince Ellis.
His coach calls him ‘The Mechanic’.
Even at 59, there is still nothing that Faldo loves more than getting on the practice ground, opening the bonnet on his swing, getting his hands oily and tuning it up.
For an hour, at the recent 20th anniversary Faldo Series event at Stoke-by-Nayland, the former Ryder Cup captain lifted the lid on his practice secrets.
1. Make each shot count
For the former world number one, there is nothing more pointless than hitting ball after ball without a plan.
When Faldo steps on the practice ground, from the very first shot, he is challenging himself mentally and physically.
Whether it is hitting to targets, shaping the shots, working the ball high or low – he hits, he learns, he improves.
2. Learn to work the ball
Faldo’s favourite routine involves four shots – a low draw, a high draw, a low fade and a high fade.
It immediately had him thinking. About ball position, swing plane, shoulder turn, hip movement. Faster arms to generate a draw, faster hips for the fade.
By thinking deeply about each shot, his argument was he would perform it better under pressure.
3. Trust your go-to shot
“Everyone has that go-to shot,” he said, “the shot they are naturally inclined to produce.
“That is the shot to trust under pressure. Even if another shape of shot would be more appropriate – rather than risk not making it, go with the shot you know you can produce comfortably.”
“I used to watch other professionals who were good at certain shots and mimic them. I would stand on the practice ground imagining I was them.
“It helped me to reproduce the shots the way they did. I used to pretend to be Jack Nicklaus with a driver or if I was practising hard bunker shots, where the ball was under the lip, I’d pretend I was Seve Ballesteros.
“I found out later that Nicklaus did exactly the same thing when he was practising.”
5. Master each club
Faldo would begin with a wedge, imagining a clock face, taking his back swing to the point where his arms were parallel with the ground. His ‘nine o’clock’ swing. Finishing at ‘three o’clock’.
He would hit shots with the ‘nine o’clock swing’ and measure the distance. Then he would lengthen the backswing by 10 per cent – measure the distance. And keep going by increments until it was a full swing.
And he would complete that routine with all his irons until he had a complete understanding of swing and distance.
“It means when you are out on the course in a tough position and you need, say, a low shot under some trees, you know that a ‘nine o’clock’ swing with a 5-iron will get you on the green.”
For Faldo, the practice ground is where you prepare yourself for every eventuality you will face on the course.
6. Use visualisation
“I have spoken to coaches a lot about this and it works,” Faldo insisted.
“For example, the night before a round, think about each hole, each shot. Even if you didn’t play the hole well last time, play it again in your mind, imagine hitting a great drive, the perfect iron, sinking the putt.”
Faldo will imagine standing on the first, feeling calm. He will even go through his pre shot routine in his mind.
Visualisation helps keep you relaxed, focus and stay in control.
7. Keep it simple
Ball flight, divot and how the shot feels maybe simple ways to judge a shot – but they tell you so much. Pay attention to them.
8. Use technology
Faldo was effectively teaching himself using intuition and hard work. It gave him a complete understanding of his swing - but he admits he would love to have been learning today
“When I was young I was doing everything by feel – I wish my time was now, because there is so much technology out there to help you understand how you are swinging the club.
“With all the cameras, computers –there are so many tools to help make each practice session effective.”
9. Hard work
For Faldo, the practice ground is his heaven. The mechanics of a swing is still his fascination.
But you have to be prepared to put the work in if you want to play well
“When I was remodelling my swing, I would hit 1,500 balls or so a day.”
10. Finish with a great 50
“On the last 50 balls of the session, really concentrate hard so you get lots of muscle memory and the feeling works into your system and the memory stays with you for next time.”
11. It is your swing
Faldo’s shot making technique was something he worked out. Hours of dedication meant he knew it inside out.
The goal wasn’t a text book swing – the goal was total understanding and control.
** If you've been inspired to take your game to the next level check out your local PGA Professional for advice and coaching.