By Dan Reardon
Nick Faldo, CBS Sports analyst and six-time major winner, was 44 and preparing to play in the 2002 U.S. Open, his 66th consecutive major, when he had his first look at Bethpage’s Black Course. He was impressed. “I’m amazed this has been sitting here 65 years unknown. It’s an absolute monster diamond, it’s a monster gem.”
Bethpage Black is no longer a secret, but the course is still remarkable. “This week, they have managed to get everything. We have length, accuracy, mega-thick rough. You have bunkers that are eight-feet deep, and you have super-fast greens. And it’s now blowing. Apart from that, it’s dead easy.”
This week Bethpage plays host to the first round of the FedExCup Playoffs with The Barclays.
Faldo had a bounce-back week at the 2002 Championship where he was playing on a special exemption from the USGA. On Saturday he shot the round of the day, a six-under 66 to crack the top 10, and finished a very respectable T5 to Tiger Woods. It was also a week when the Englishman connected with the New York galleries.
“I was wearing an ‘I Love New York’ hat on my head all week, which was done in support of New York after 9/11. At 44 I knew that anytime I played well I had to enjoy it.”
This week Faldo will be following the action at Bethpage for CBS Sports; he previews the course and field for the event.
There was weather in 2002, and the course was nearly unplayable in 2009 for the U.S. Open there. What will players learn about the real Bethpage if weather cooperates this week?
In weather like that, you don’t see anything. You just [put your] head down and play. There is so much gorgeous bunkering. I am not sure where they are going to put the rough line. The USGA thought the fairways would probably be too wide if they took the rough all the way out. I thought it was a beautiful golf course — bunkering challenging, undulating greens, a couple of difficult uphill shots as well. I thought it was a great challenge. It really is.
Talk about the putting surfaces, which some had described as sort of flat.
The thing is if they start running greens at 13-plus, you don’t need much more than one or two percent of slope. I thought because of the length and some of the angles you had to come into some of the holes across the corners where they are able to tuck the flags. If they had roller coaster greens as well, it would have been impossible.
You seemed to know where the “on” switch was to elevate your game when you came to really important events. What did you do and what do the current players like DJ [Dustin Johnson] and Rory [McIlroy] and Bubba [Watson] and Jason [Day] do with the new emphasis on length?
You turn up the intensity. You don’t want 1000 revs, and you don’t want 9000 revs. You need to know what is you. And you had to have what we call your “go-to shots” that you can absolutely trust so you’re able to stand up. I always enjoyed it, because I knew that if I went up a few percent most people went down a few percent.
It’s a different style of golf now. They genuinely believe in pounding it out there. And it if pops into the rough, they come out of it with an eight-iron or something in their hand. I was always trying to avoid the rough. I always preferred hitting five and six-irons from the fairways. Seve [Ballesteros] had more of today’s attitude. Get it closer to the green. It didn’t matter where he was. I always tried to hit it in the fairway. That was like a mantra to me. It didn’t matter how far or almost where. As long as you were on the short grass, you were going forward.
After accuracy what would be the next essential skill set this week, and who do you see with that package?
If you can work the ball right to left and left to right through the bag, that is the ultimate goal. Then you are fully prepared for everything, and off you go. That was always my philosophy. The guy that can only hit the fade can’t get to that flag.
If I see a guy on the range now, and he is able to move the ball around consistently and confidently and is one of the better players, then they would have an advantage. You have a couple of obvious players from a couple of weeks ago, both [Justin] Rose and [Henrik] Stenson. They play very solid, very consistent. Rickie Fowler has the ability to move the ball around more than he gets credit for. Dustin has changed, and his go-to shot is now a fade.
Now Jason struggles. He was struggling with the fade at Bridgestone. I said “Wow, just imagine what he could do if he could fade the golf ball.” The day that Jason learns to confidently fade the golf ball on Tour, that will take his game to another level. So even though you are number one, there is a way of getting even better.
They all have that ability. But who are the ones that have the confidence to do it when it is needed? That’s a little different.
The favorites this week are the usual obvious suspects. Who are the dark horses with a real shot at the leaderboard?
There were a couple of guys who were my dark horses at the PGA. There’s Kevin Chappell. He played solid. I’ve been wondering when that is going to happen. So that’s a good dark horse name. You have Harris English. A lot of guys like the way he plays. He’s very consistent. I think Justin Thomas as well. He’s another guy who could and should do more. Of course Jimmy Walker is no longer a dark horse. For years he was always my dark horse to break through. I went away from him at the PGA and picked Stenson and Chappell and missed out. Jimmy was always my pick. He had been bubbling under, and you wondered when he would take it to the next level. And now he is an A-list guy. He did everything that week, especially his putting.
Dan Reardon has covered golf for radio station KMOX in St. Louis for 32 years. In that time, he has covered more than 100 events, including majors and other PGA, LPGA and Champions Tour tournaments. During his broadcast career, Reardon conducted one-on-one interviews with three dozen members of the World Golf of Fame. He has contributed to many publications over the years and co-authored the book Golf’s Greatest Eighteen from Random House. Reardon served as Director of Media relations for LPGA events in both St. Louis and Chicago for 10 years.