There are few more compelling stories in British sport than the rise to golfing super stardom of Sir Nick Faldo, the man whose monumental career was launched at Welwyn Garden City Golf Club.
Majors are the currency by which the world’s elite golfers are judged and Faldo won six - three Open Championships and three Masters – and remains Europe’s greatest golfer.
Would-be professionals are to this day inspired by the story of a young Faldo cycling through Sherrardspark Woods, clubs on his back, arriving at WGC Golf Club to practise until his hands were raw.
The journey from modest beginnings to global sporting star began in 1971 when a 13-year-old Faldo and his mother, Joyce, arrived at Mannicotts to enquire about lessons. Famously, Faldo had been inspired by watching Jack Nicklaus win the Masters. Nicklaus’s performance and the stunning Augusta course had no doubt been enhanced by the Faldo family’s first colour television which had been recently purchased by his father, George.
Faldo’s golfing education began with six lessons under WGC assistant professional Chris Arnold before he was handed over to the tutelage of head professional Ian Connelly, who was to become Faldo’s coach and mentor for over a decade.
Connelly, a Scot from Dundee, had joined Welwyn in 1966, often repeating his belief that ‘golf is a simple game.’ Faldo quickly made massive strides and Connelly revelled in the fact that his pupil oozed both talent and burning ambition. Connelly was also coach to a group of other WGC boys of high ability – Trevor Powell, Bobby Mitchell and Bryan Lewis played to a blistering standard and all three would turn professional. In addition, Chris Allen, Faldo’s friend and a multiple WGC club champion, was one of England’s finest amateurs. Colin and John Moorhouse were also players of calibre and John went on to become Faldo’s first caddie on tour.
Two years after his first lesson Faldo left Sir Frederic Osborne School to concentrate on golf full time. Connelly challenged him to build up his strength and his handicap tumbled from five to two. Dedication was total. Faldo was selected for Herts Colts and then the county senior team. Progress followed with a call-up to the England Boys’ team and by 1975 Faldo’s game had reached a stunning level, reflected by his victory in the English Amateur Championship at Royal Lytham eight days after his 18th birthday. A summer of success followed with the British Youths Championship, the Berkshire Trophy, the South African Amateur Strokeplay Championship, the Hertfordshire County Championship and, of course, the Welwyn Garden City Club Championship.
That summer of ‘75 signalled the end of Faldo’s amateur apprenticeship. A spell at college in Texas didn’t suit him and he made the decision to turn professional in 1976. Now a strapping 6’ 3’’ 19-year-old, he made a modest debut, finishing joint 38th in the French Open at Le Touquet, the gallery peppered with WGC members. It was a quiet start for a man who would climb to the highest peaks of achievement, eventually sitting for 98 weeks at the top of golf’s world rankings.
Faldo was central to some of Europe’s greatest Ryder Cup achievements, making 11 appearances over 20 years, securing a record 25 points. He won 41 tournaments, including his six majors, the Open Championship in 1987, ’90 and ’92 and the Masters in 1989, ’90 and ’96. The Commemoration Jug, a competition for club champions, is hosted at Welwyn in celebration of his first major title, the 1987 Open Championship at Muirfield.
Today, based in Florida, Sir Nick Faldo MBE is a revered course designer, supporter of youth golf via the Faldo Series and lead commentator with CBS and the Golf Channel. While broadcasting to the world, Faldo will occasionally make reference to his first club and its parkland course in Welwyn Garden City. So, when you stand over your ball on the tee of WGC Golf Club’s challenging first hole, be inspired. Europe’s greatest golfer started here.