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Memories of a close encounter
For the cover story this issue I travelled to Worksop Golf Club to interview Lee Westwood. Our paths had crossed once before, many years ago, back in his amateur days. But surely he wouldn't remember that...

So, did you get over the beating I gave you,” asked Lee Westwood, almost matter-of-factly, as he strolled – suited and booted (as per our photographer’s request) – into the Committee Room at Worksop Golf Club.

My initial reaction to Lee’s greeting was one of shock: I mean, the match in question – the annual South West Counties side versus the Midlands – took place fully 20 years ago at a venue neither of us, it turned out, could remember.

Then there was the sheer injustice of the wording.

“What do you mean, beating?”

“Did you 2&1 didn’t I?”

“That’s not a proper beating.” (Actually, it was 3&2, but I let it go, obviously). The 8&7 Fred Couples handed out to Ian Woosnam in the 1997 Ryder Cup singles at Valderamma – the year of Westwood’s debut in the matches, incidentally – that’s what I call a beating. Two and one (OK, 3&2) in a county singles tie – that’s not a beating, it’s more or less a half, give or take a couple of putts.

Lee Westwood at Worksop
Young and gifted: The Worksop clubhouse
dedicates much wall-space to the exploits
of one Lee John Westwood

I wasn’t about to massage ego and tell the man I was about to interview that playing him in a county fixture was up there among the highlights of my golfing career, so instead I volunteered my version: “Anyway, you were lucky, as I remember it.” (I was using the golfer’s definition of being ‘lucky’ here – i.e. he had been lucky in the sense he hit the ball solid all day and holed every putt he looked at). “If it hadn’t been for the putting, I’d have had you.”

“Yeah, yeah. Course you would. It’s true though, I could putt a bit back then,” agreed the man who handed out the ‘beating’. “Thing is, I didn’t even think about it in those days. It was so natural. Always is for kids. I see it in my own boys now – they just look at the hole and knock the ball in without thinking about it.”

He had a point there. As Tom Watson said after playing alongside Matteo Manassero over the first two days at Turnberry – ‘I wish I had that putting stroke. Straight back, straight through, No fear.’

No fear – the secret of putting, basically.

“When did it all become so complicated?”

“Dunno. I’ve been thinking about this a bit lately, and the thing with me and putting is that I only tend to go and see Paul [putting-guru Hurrion – see page 96] when I feel I am putting badly, and need some help to get back on track – which is the wrong way to do it. I need to be more disciplined like Padraig [Harrington] and work on my putting all of the time.”

Down to earth, personable and totally relaxed in the surrounding of the Worksop club that he joined as a 13 year-old, Lee Westwood makes for interesting conversation – much of it dominated on the events at Turnberry, where, had he not three-putted the final green he would have joined Watson and Stuart Cink in the playoff – a playoff many of us would have backed him to win.

“It’s history now, but I’ve proved to myself I have what it takes to play under that pressure. I know what I have to do to improve to win majors, and I have time on my side.”

Such is the respect Westwood commands there couldn’t be a more popular home winner when the Open returns to St Andrews next summer, and nor is there likely to be a more valuable player fighting for Europe to reclaim the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor.

As for my golf, well, two weekends from now, while Lee is sunning himself at the Portugal Masters, I have the pleasure of captaining the South West Counties side in the annual fixture with the Midlands – which this year I was delighted to discover takes place over the East Course at Saunton, one of my very favourite venues.

Funny how things go around.

October 2009

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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