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Faldo's Burning Desire Still Strong after Three Decades

Nick Faldo, the former world number one golfer and a winner of six Majors, will be competing in the £1.25 million Johnnie Walker Classic at the Pine Valley Golf Resort and Country Club in Beijing, China, just two weeks short of the 30th anniversary of his professional debut. Now aged 47, the great English golfer still has a burning desire to compete as he explains to Robin Barwick.

It would be virtually impossible to find a sportsman with more drive and determination than Nick Faldo. Even now, after almost 30 years on Tour, 39 victories around the world - including three British Opens and three US Masters - and multiple millions of pounds earned in prize money, the Englishman strives to improve his game and to win again.

Faldo knows that his years of playing international golf at the highest level are numbered, but rather than kick back and gaze at his trio of Claret Jugs from The Open gleaming on the mantelpiece, you're more likely to find him on the range tweaking the most intricate mechanics of his swing, working out in the gym, or keeping a strict eye on the calories - in his latest dietary regime, Faldo is generous enough to allow himself a solitary dessert per week.

"I admire anyone who shows great commitment, like I do - anyone who really commits themselves 100 per cent to their sport," says Faldo when considering the qualities of a world-beater. "I always like to see those who keep trying to find a way to get better all the time. I think that is important - to leave no stone unturned and to keep searching for improvement."

It is this dedication to his trade that enables Faldo to tee up in the 2005 Johnnie Walker Classic at Beijing's Pine Valley Golf Resort and Country Club from April 21 to 24, 15 years after he won the inaugural Johnnie Walker Classic in Hong Kong. Another indication of his commitment is that Faldo remembers the tournament so clearly, which must also say something about the distinct qualities of Johnnie Walker events.

"I remember winning in Hong Kong very well, as if it were only last season," smiles the golfer who also took the title at Singapore Island Country Club in 1993. "It always pays to remember the few you win rather than the many than got away!

"I particularly remember the first Johnnie Walker Classic as I shot 63 (a course record) that week, which doesn't happen often, and that was great. I had been playing in Australia the week before and got injured, and at one point I thought I was going to have to withdraw from the tournament. But I came to Hong Kong, tried my best, and as they say, 'beware the injured golfer'!"

And so Faldo's love affair with Johnnie Walker tournaments had begun, and before winning the Classic for a second time, he was also triumphant at the 1992 Johnnie Walker World Championship.

"Johnnie Walker has been good to me," adds Faldo, who has been known to gamely serve drinks to Johnnie Walker guests from behind the bar at special events. "They have put me behind the bar on occasion, which is always great fun, and I enjoy a tipple of their Black Label from time to time myself ... for medicinal purposes you understand," he jokes.

One of the advantages of being among the world's elite golfers is that you are welcome to play in virtually any tournament you choose, and like a number of Faldo's Tour colleagues competing in the 2005 Johnnie Walker Classic, such as Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia and defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez, Faldo has always been keen to see the world. The broad experience, in terms of variety of golf courses, competition, cultures and climates, make golfers more rounded as players. A frequent visitor to China, Faldo has even designed a golf course there.

"I really enjoy China, it's a great country," starts Faldo. "I first went there to do a design project at Mission Hills - and what a fantastic development that has turned out to be - and I have also spent a lot of time in Beijing, for business and on holiday with my wife Valerie. I have visited the Ming Tombs and The Great Wall, and the Forbidden City and I love Chinese art too."

When Faldo began playing Tour golf in the late 1970s - the former English Amateur champion turned pro in 1976, aged 19 - there were very few opportunities for European pros to play in the Far East, but thanks to the commitment of sponsors such as Johnnie Walker to develop the game, golf has flourished in the Orient, and progress continues apace.

Indeed, of an estimated 60 million golfers in the world today, 23 million are Asian, and while China has approximately 300,000 active golfers, there are another 14.5 million Chinese people who would like the opportunity to play, signifying enormous potential in the country.

"Asia is one area of the world that still has great expansion ahead," states Faldo, who was golf's first Tour golfer to win over £1 million in a single season, in 1992. "The climate in Asia is excellent for an outdoor sport like golf, and we are just waiting for more Asian players to venture out onto the world stage and become dominant players. When more Asian golfers get the opportunity to travel and get that experience, some of them will find fantastic success."

Faldo picks out Korea's Kevin Na as one of the Asian golfers to watch in the near future. Born in Seoul, South Korea, Na is only 21 years old, yet he is fast making his presence felt on the PGA Tour in the United States. Another golfer who has impressed Faldo is China's Zhang Lian-wei, who became the first Chinese player to win on the European Tour when he dramatically defeated Ernie Els at the last hole of the 2003 Caltex Masters in Singapore.

"The game is ready to take-off," adds Faldo, "and the Asian countries just need a few more heroes to inspire the youngsters and attract more attention to the sport, and that will really accelerate development."

A golfer who has found fame and fortune from an exceptional career, it has now become one of Faldo's priorities to help develop the game, and to give talented youngsters an international, competitive outlet as they swing their way towards reaching their own professional aspirations. The Faldo Junior Series is now established as one of the premier competitions for young golfers in the UK and Europe, and in 2005 for the first time, the Series has set down in Asia.

"I am delighted to be getting involved in pushing development in Asia, and it was very exciting to bring the Junior Series to Fanling in Hong Kong for the first time in January, to kick off the 2005 Junior Series" explains Faldo, a father of four. "We are helping to develop the youngsters and give them another competitive outlet, which is exactly what they need. The idea eventually, is to go all around Pan Asia."

While Faldo has strong links with Asian golf and the Johnnie Walker Classic in the past, with such forward thinking and willingness to pass on his expertise, his greatest legacy to golf in the Far East may lie in the future.

Faldo will be part of an exceptional field at the Johnnie Walker Classic, Asia Pacific's premier golf event, which also includes former winner Ernie Els, defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez of Spain and his Ryder Cup compatriot Sergio Garcia, plus a host of other top international and Asian players. The tournament will be held at Pine Valley Golf Resort and Country Club in Beijing, China from April 21-24. For further information click on www.johnniewalkerclassic.com.

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