Lee Westwood has been a constant in professional golf for more than two decades. And of late, the Englishman has reminded those in America just how good a player he remains. Here, some of those who know him best, Westwood himself and top names in golf discuss the person and the player.
Butch Harmon: “It is the part of the game that has stopped him winning major championships. He’s a marvellous ball-striker. And he holes lots of putts. But if he has a weakness it is his chipping.”
Lee Westwood: “My short game gets most attention in the media. But people have to realise that if I have 12 birdie chances inside 20 feet and miss most of them I look like I’m putting badly. It is like saying Phil Mickelson’s long game is weak compared to his short game. Everyone has a part of the game that is the weakest. I’m used to it though. It’s better to be written about than not.”
Mark Roe (former Tour pro): “I’ve known Lee since he was 15 years old. We’re from the same part of the world. A few years ago at the 2007 Scottish Open we were sitting in the locker room and I complimented him on his swing.
“Yeah, but I can’t chip can I?” was his reply.
“No you can’t; you’re useless,” I said.”
Andrew “Chubby” Chandler (former agent): “I had an insight into Lee early on in our working relationship, at the 1998 Open. He had won the week before and arrived at Birkdale as the favourite. So he had a lot of time-consuming media stuff to do. In the middle of all that he was asked to spend a few minutes with a severely handicapped child. It would have been easy to not do it, but Lee did. He knelt down by the wheelchair for 20 minutes and was just wonderful. He was entirely comfortable in that situation.”
Lee: “I don’t like to judge people. I take them as I find them. I don’t dissect them. I like it when they are honest and driven. I admire ambition. Mark Foster is one of my oldest friends. We grew up playing golf together. But he is living in London now. But we go out for dinner on Tour. He and I can pick up where we left off after months apart. You never lose that with your real mates do you?
“I don’t have that many friends on Tour. I don’t really want to get too close to other golfers. I’d rather beat them. That’s my job. I’m not there to make friends, which is not to say that I don’t get on well with almost everyone, both in Europe and in the States.”
Billy Foster (former caddie): “If Lee hasn’t got the best sense of humour on Tour I don’t know who has. He has a great humility, too. It’s hard to think of a more normal bloke. A lot of that comes from his parents.”
Lee: “Being the son of a math teacher had plusses and minuses. I’m sure people who were not in my Dad’s class thought I was the teacher’s pet. But those in my class knew that I had it harder than they did – because he was trying hard not to show favouritism. Having said that, if I had a golf competition in the evening, he never set homework. Which was a nice tactic. Kids would come into class and ask if I had a club match that evening. If I did, they were always pleased: no homework.”
Billy Foster: “At the Dunhill Links one year a young boy collapsed behind the tee. He was having an epileptic fit. Everyone in the crowd took five paces back, except Lee. He went straight over and was looking after the lad as the fit took its course. When it was over, he stayed with him for a bit to make sure he was okay, then signed a glove for him. I was impressed by that. Lee’s strength of character really shone through there. He has great humanity.”
Lee: “I have never been one for the politics of amateur golf. Or the selectors. One of them once told me that, even if I hit a bad shot, make sure I make a nice follow through. So that it looks like you’ve hit a good shot. Because most of the selectors won’t leave the clubhouse. When I heard that I knew it wasn’t the way I wanted to go. I don’t want to be judged like that.”
Billy Foster: “The purity of the strike Lee gets is amazing. And he is so consistent. He’s second-to-none. No one has ever impressed me as much with his ball striking. Sergio was close when I was with him. And Tiger too. But Lee is better.”
Lee: “My slump helped me in some ways, but not in others. I recognise my weaknesses, which is never nice. I’m more comfortable with what I’m doing though. I know I have the tools to cope with anything. I don’t want to have to go back to square one, but if I do, I know where square one is.
“It was tough mentally. My self-image suffered. My low point came at Slaley Hall in 2001. I played crap and shot two scores in the 80s. I was wondering why it was happening to me, to be honest. Which is why the 2002 Ryder Cup was tough for me. I could have pulled out of it. But I had qualified, so I decided to play. And I played well. It was some of the best golf I’d played in two years. It helped playing with Sergio. He was very buoyant and bubbly.”
Mark Foster (European Tour player and fellow Worksop native): “I’ve known Lee since junior golf at the local municipal course, were we both started. I was maybe 10 and he’d be 12. There were a few good players amongst us, but Lee was always the best and the benchmark for all of us. He was exactly the same back then as he is now. He was always so well organised: first to get a full set of clubs, first to break par. In fact, he was always first to do everything. And a real nice lad.”
Lee: “Are we hitting the ball too far? I don’t think so. Everything moves on. The ball and the drivers have reached a plateau. It’s not just the equipment. Guys are bigger and stronger. And courses have adapted to that. The greens are firmer and faster and holes are longer. I look at old tapes of the Masters and can’t believe how hard they hit their putts back then. They thumped them.”
Mark Foster: “Lee’s long game has always been exceptional. I don’t buy into this theory that he is a bad putter. You can’t win as many tournaments or get to No.1 in the world if you are a bad putter. When I played with him at the Seve Trophy he putted as well as I’ve ever seen anyone putt.”
"No one has ever impressed me as much with his ball striking. Sergio was close when I was with him. And Tiger too. But Lee is better.” - Billy Foster.
Lee: “I love watching people hit long drives. And I like hearing the ‘oohs and ahs’ when I hit a big one. Still, it’s much harder to shape shots these days. I don’t like that. I used to love shaping shots. And the ball goes through the wind a lot better today. I think spectators lose out because of that. They don’t get to see the big slices and hooks. No one plays like Seve anymore. It’s not as if we can’t; we just don’t have to.”
Mark Foster: “We will always be good friends. If I’m struggling I feel like I can pick Lee’s brain. I may be one of the few people to whom he gives advice. He’s a good friend to have. He’d help me if I needed it, but he doesn’t force himself on me. Socially he’s great fun. He loves the banter. And he can take some stick as well as give it out.”
Lee: “We play for a staggering amount of money, no doubt about it and I've always stressed we are very very fortunate. I think we are paid too much money – compared to police and teachers and nurses. But then compare it to footballers. I think the only thing you can probably justify it by is that when golfers have a bad day, we don't get paid anything, but when we have a great day we get paid a lot. It's part of the pressure involved. There isn't a wage as such.”
Geoff Ogilvy (2006 U.S. Open champion): “Lee is what I call ‘golf smart.’ And a fantastic ball striker. Which has never been in question apart from the period when he tried to start turning the ball over from right-to-left. That was a mistake, which it usually is when someone tries to change the thing that got him to where he was. When I first got to Europe, I couldn’t believe how anyone could be that good at winning. He did it for fun. It seemed like it was either Lee or Monty every week. It was incredible how good he was.”
Lee: “Careers are defined by major championships. I get constantly asked about it so they must. And I'd love to win a major; it's the reason why I keep practising and driving myself on. But the security of my kids means more to me than that. I wouldn't sacrifice all I had for a major, no.”
Geoff Ogilvy: “If Lee doesn’t win a major it will be a travesty. Even more than it was for Monty. It feels like Lee has more often been in the hunt with nine holes to play. It must be at least ten times. And he’s not done yet. He just keeps playing better and better in the big events. He’s always there and he seems to have himself figured out in terms of playing well at the right times. That he hasn’t won is not down to lack of bottle. He has more than anyone. He closes out events as well as anyone.”
Bob Rotella (sports psychologist): “We all need to be able to just enjoy playing golf until good things happen. I think Lee does an unbelievable job in that respect. He is so calm with it all. He seems to know that all he can do is play as well as he can and if he does that he is happy. God bless him. He isn’t beating himself up or tearing himself down.”
Lee: “I still shudder when I think about how much the private jet cost Darren (Clarke) and myself. It was definitely the biggest waste of money I can possibly imagine. I regret it to this day. We spent more – much more – than I have ever spent on a house. We had it for maybe four years. Which was way too long. Now, of course, we are more sensible and just buy time on someone else’s jet. That is much more economical.”
Pete Cowen (swing coach): “Everyone comments on the bend in Lee’s left arm at impact, but he actually has a 17-degree natural bend in that arm. So there is nothing he can do about that. Of course, why would he want to? That bend is what allows him to eliminate the left side of the course. He stands there knowing the ball can’t go left and that he can hit it as hard as he wants. So he hit loads and loads of fairways and loads and loads of greens.
“And Lee is not a bad putter; he’s a very, very good putter. Yes, he misses putts. But he misses them because he has so many chances. I don’t see that as a problem; I see that as a massive positive.”
Lee: “Being buried alive is the thing that scares me most. I dream about that. I’m screaming my head off. I’m not generally claustrophobic. I can handle busy rooms or small lifts. But the thought of lying there in the dark not able to stand up scares the shit out of me. For that reason, I did not enjoy the one time I was in an MRI scanner. That wasn’t pleasant.”
John Westwood (father): “Perhaps the thing I am most proud of is that, no matter where I have gone in the world, I have had people tell me what a wonderful man Lee is. Hearing that means more to me and my wife than anything he has ever achieved on the golf course. I am very proud of the fact that he is a better man than he is a golfer, which is saying something given that he has been No.1 in the world.
“At an event in Sweden I watched him speak to maybe 400 people at a sponsor’s dinner. I was struck by how good he was in that environment. He made them laugh and he held their attention throughout. It went well. I couldn’t believe how sharp-witted he was.”
Lee: “I can’t get too specific about the person I admire most in the world. But you have to admire anyone who gives his or her life for the betterment of society or for the benefit of others. I’m thinking especially of those who have lost limbs or their lives while in the armed forces. These people deserve the admiration of all of us.”
John Westwood: “Lee was always a confident lad, the sort who was pretty good at almost every sport he tried. He was a really good runner at the age of nine, in fact. Some of his times for 800 meters were exceptional. He tried athletics, rugby, football and was always quite good without being great. He lacked a bit of aggression when it came to the contact sports. But the key was he did a bit of everything until he was 14 or so.
“The first hint that Lee was really good at golf came when he was 14. He won the under-18 county boys championship. Then when he was 15 he won what was called the “four counties” against the champions from Shropshire, Lancashire and Cheshire. Not long after that he was winning the likes of the British Youths Championship and the Leven Gold Medal – which is the oldest 72-hole amateur competition in the world – and playing for England. I remember him going up to Scotland and comfortably beating Gordon Sherry, who was the big star at the time.”
"I'd love to win a major; it's the reason why I keep practising and driving myself on. But the security of my kids means more to me than that. I wouldn't sacrifice all I had for a major, no.” - Lee Westwood.
Lee: “I’ve been told this so many times it must be true. I can be a bit stubborn at times. I’m always right and the smartest man in every room. Not sure I’ve ever lost an argument about anything really (laughs).”
John Westwood: “I have great admiration for the way Lee came back after a long period of struggling with his game and swing. I know that at one point he was very close to packing it in. He told me more than once how he wasn’t enjoying the game and that he might give it all up. But I admire him enormously for what he went through and how he handled it all. For him to get to No.1 having been as low as 256 was a great feat. To be able to say, “I am the best golfer in the world” is bigger than any major. It is a reward for consistency over a long period, not just one week of great play.”
Lee: “I’ve had a few hair-raising flights where I’ve felt like it has been touch-and-go. One in particular. We were going into Jeju Island in Korea. In the middle of a typhoon. Robert Van Derksen was sat in the seat in front of me and turned the colour of a Ping golf bag. He was pure white. It was horrible. The engines were screaming. In the end, we turned round and landed in China somewhere.”
Michael “Sponge” Waite (former caddie): “I’ve worked for some good players, but Lee is in a different league.”
Lee: “I have a brilliant relationship with America. I always get a great reception and a lot of support. I think social media has helped, as has the fact that I play there a lot more than I used to. In the early days I wasn’t over there much and I found it hard to rationalise everything. Americans are just different from us. And I had to get used to that. So I enjoy playing in the States. Every tournament is a massive deal. I love that.”
Mark Roe: “I love being around Lee. I enjoy his company very much. He is still a Worksop lad. Through all the success he has had, he has maintained his roots. He has maintained his normality. He is just real. He hasn’t changed like so many do when the money starts coming in. I have never in my life heard anyone say about Lee: ‘He was never like that before.’ That’s a great quality to have. I know if I asked him a favour he would stand up as a mate and do what he could for me. I like him a lot. And he has a great sense of humour. He makes fun of himself as much as anyone else. Not many so-called ‘stars’ are like that. What you see is what you get. He’s a proper bloke.”
Lee: “In retirement I’d love to have a go at ‘Strictly Come Dancing.’ My Nan and Grandad used to run an old time dance school, so I did do a bit when I was a little boy. I was even ‘highly commended’ in a couple of dances: the Lilac Waltz and the Boston Two-Step. And I’ve still got the medals to prove it. We’re talking 30 years ago mind. So it’s been a while since I slipped on my patent dancing shoes. I’m a bit out of practice. But I’d have a fair idea going in. Although I’m not too sure how I’d look in those tight sequined outfits. I think I’d have to lose some weight. And the fake tan? I’d have to get the hair-removing cream out first.”
Denis Pugh (swing coach): “He’s the best driver of the ball in world golf. That’s what comes first to mind. And second to mind is what a good all-round bloke he is. I don’t think anyone has ever changed less than Lee. He was the same as No.1 in the world as he was when an amateur. He manages to separate the various parts of his life. He’s not ‘up himself,’ as we say in England. He realises that his galleries are made up of real people, not just blank faces he can ignore or abuse. Because of that, people gravitate towards him.”