Westwood passes test of endurance
Lee Westwood was down. Really down, as disappointed as he had ever been in a career that had already witnessed severe lows as well as massive highs.
It was time for a gentle pep talk because at this moment of huge despondency the path of his golfing life could quite easily have taken vastly contrasting directions.
Westwood had just blown the 2009 Open Championship. He'd three-putted from the front of Turnberry's final green to miss a play-off by a single shot. Not only that, he'd earlier squandered a decent chance of putting himself well clear of Stewart Cink and Tom Watson, the men who contested that shoot-out in his absence.
People remember that Open for the then 59-year-old Watson almost creating golf's greatest-ever story, but that championship should have been won by Lee Westwood and he knew it.
No-one played better golf than the Englishman on the Ayrshire links that week and he had let slip from his grasp his first major title. The disappointment for a 36-year-old apparently at the very height of his powers was crushing.
"He was on the floor the night and the day after that Open," recalls Westwood's long-time manager Andrew "Chubby" Chandler. "It was then that I told him he was the best player in the world and that he could decide to kick on from this or he could feel sorry for himself and disappear for a while.
"He is resilient, he does come back," Chandler added. And how he does, for the manager's prophecy has now become reality with Westwood ending Tiger Woods' five year reign as world number one.
Chandler rates the way Westwood responded to the disappointment of losing that Open alongside the way his charge rescaled the rankings after a total loss of form earlier in his career that saw him slip out of the world's top 250 players. It was an extraordinary fall for a former top five player.
"To go from no ranking to four in the world then back to 259 and now up to number one is quite some achievement," Chandler told me. "There's been a lot of hard work, a lot of will power and a lot of support."
When Westwood turned pro in 1993 he quickly learned how to win or rather it just happened as he reeled off title after title with apparent ease. There was no stress involved, he didn't truly appreciate what he was achieving as he climbed to a position of number four in the world.
Then his golf game fell apart. He was working on a swing change and was struggling at the 2001 Players Championship in Florida. Then along came his son Sam, his first child, and Westwood took a short paternity break.
When he returned to the game the new Dad had lost whatever it was that had taken him into the world's elite and he didn't know how to rediscover it. He went through different coaches and explored new techniques to no avail for around two years.
It was only when Westwood went back to the basic golfing principles that had been the bedrock of the early part of his career that he was able to start the climb back.
In 2000 he had won seven tournaments but it wasn't until late summer 2003 that he contended again and won. First he landed the BMW International Open in Germany and then the Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews.
Those wins felt so much sweeter. Now he knew what went into winning. In 2003 and 2004 Westwood climbed back into the European Tour's top 10 money winners, but slumped again in the next two seasons and needed a wildcard pick for the 2006 Ryder Cup.
It was around this time that he made the most significant change to his career by recruiting fitness coach Steve McGregor. "He's had a huge influence," Chandler says.
"He has put a lot of structure into Lee's life. All the work is done at home; Lee doesn't do any gym work on tour, but this structure has made the difference between being a very good player and a great player."
Westwood has his own gym at his Worksop abode, as well as a driving range, putting green and bunkers to practice his short game. "It's not just that he works hard, it is the quality of that work that sets him apart," Chandler said.
There is no hint that Westwood is now going to rest on the laurels of becoming officially the best player in the world. He knows that above everything he needs the major title that is commensurate with his undoubted golfing talents.
It has been that way for a while and it is why he was so disappointed to lose the 2009 Open. As soon as he won last year's season ending Dubai World Championship, the 37-year-old was looking forward to the next place he could win a major - Augusta.
"One of the most amazing hours I have spent was the Thursday morning at the Masters when he was on the range warming up," Chandler remembers. "Knowing how much preparation had gone on and to see him hit perfect golf shots for an hour on the day he had to do it, I couldn't believe what I had just seen.
"He was absolutely tuned perfectly," Chandler added.
The same objective applies now as Westwood, in partnership with McGregor, seeks a permanent cure for the calf injury that severely curtailed his golf in 2010. Everything is being aimed at being in prime form for the Masters to give him his best chance of going one better than last year's runner-up finish.
Westwood is the fourth player to go to world number one before winning a major. He is desperately keen to follow in the spikemarks of Ian Woosnam, Fred Couples and David Duval - who each landed one of the big four titles after reaching the summit of the rankings.
Perhaps his biggest danger is to over-emphasise the majors, putting too much pressure on himself might prove counter productive. Chandler sees it differently: "I would think it is easier to win a major if you know you are better than everybody else and being world number one would suggest that," he said.
"The world of Lee Westwood is going to hopefully stay the same for quite a while and if it does there's no reason why he can't win majors."
Once he is again fully-fit everything will be in place. Westwood has the perfect supporting cast in his family, management and caddie Billy Foster. There's only one thing missing and the world number one is on a mission to make sure that doesn't remain the case for much longer.