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What makes Westwood special

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Rob Hodgetts | 16:55 UK time, Monday, 1 November 2010

"So what makes Lee Westwood so special?" It was my opening question to Westwood's coach Pete Cowen after the Englishman usurped Tiger Woods as world number one.

The answer was unexpected - I was waiting for something along the lines of great driver of a golf ball or something - but it encapsulated his rise to the top of the rankings.

"He's very comfortable in uncomfortable situations," said Cowen. "It means he wants to be where it hurts. That's what all great sportsmen can do; they can cope with adversity very well."

Translated to the golf course that suggests Westwood relishes the pressure of the big occasion, thriving and embracing the situation when others might buckle.

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Number one Lee Westwood sets his sights on a major title

"He's always had it," says Cowen. "As a kid he was always confident with his ability."

The pair first teamed up in 1995 and by 2000 Westwood had reached number four in the world. But then he went his own way, dabbling with other coaches and other methods, searching for the answer, the quick fix to the top. He plummeted to 266th before tackling adversity head on and beginning the long fight back.

"I always tell my players the road to success is always under construction, you never actually get there," says Cowen.

"There's a light at the end of the tunnel but some think there's a short cut to it. Lee did a bit of that in early 2001. But all these deviations off the straight and narrow are all dead ends. You never lose your ability but you think you lose it. He had the answer all along, all we had to do was get his short game a bit sharper and keep working."

Cowen and Westwood worked on-off before getting back together again full-time two years ago. Along with sports scientist Steve McGregor, the trio threw the kitchen sink at it.

"Lee wanted to do everything right so we said: 'Your body has got to be in great shape to do what we want you to do with your golf swing.' Steve has got to take a lot of credit for that."

The main changes were improving the muscle structure in Westwood's shoulders and core.

"To play under pressure you've got to have some stability," says Cowen. "I think the biggest problem in the golf swing is the lack of stability in the shoulders.

"The golf swing is pretty simple. The body is the engine, the arms and the club movement are the steering wheel. You can have a car with a great engine and steering wheel but if the linkage between the two is poor the car will still drive terribly. So we worked hard on the shoulders. Once his body was tuned it made my job easier."

Englishman Cowen, who also coaches US Open champion Graeme McDowell and Open winner Louis Oosthuizen, initially set about improving Westwood's short game, which Cowen rated as two out of 10.

"If my players get a five from me they're doing very well and Lee's probably now at four and a half," said Cowen. "So if he can get to number one when I'm giving him 4.5 out of 10 who knows what he can do.

"He's becoming a really good bunker player, with all different types of shots from different types of lies. It's making sure he picks the right shot at the right time.

"For the long game I'll probably give him seven. He's the best ball striker in the world and he's a great putter, fearless. Again, I'd say seven."

The pair often meet up three times a week when Westwood's at home. A typical day might involve gym work in the morning, then two hours short-game work, another couple of hours on the long game and half an hour or so of putting.

"Anything up to five hours for quality practice, that's all that's needed," says Cowen. "I've done more punishing practice myself and I don't think that's the answer. It has to be purposeful practice."

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Lee Westwood holes a 30-foot putt at the Ryder Cup

Instead of banging balls on the range, the pair will work on spin control, ball flight - including reducing the amount of shape on shots - ball penetration, and accuracy.

"There's more to it than just working on the swing," says Cowen.

"Deviation factor is massive in golf. It's not the good shots we're worried about, it's how good the bad shots are. We set ourselves a deviation pattern of five yards left or right and five yards long or short. It's simplifying it so that his iron shots are stunning. Most people saw that at the Ryder Cup - every iron shot was hunting the flag."

The lack of a major victory will continue to dog Westwood but Cowen believes it is only a matter of time.

"He knows he's good enough and he knows what it takes to win majors," he says.

"He's played in three this year and finished second in two. You can't do much more than that. He's got to be patient and that chance will come again. When that door opens I'm sure he'll walk through it.

"Jack Nicklaus said many years ago that he was given more tournaments than he won. He just stayed in the present, did what he was good at and other people folded around him. Sometimes you don't win, other people lose. In golf you can only control what you're doing and Lee's able to control himself better than anybody at the moment."

Westwood could be shot down quickly if Woods, Phil Mickelson or Martin Kaymer have their way at the HSBC Champions event in China this week.

But judging by what Cowen says, it sounds like he'll be more than comfortable with the target on his back.


  • Comment number 1.

    Super Article Rob,
    The whole No.1 scramble is really giving a boost to these end of season events. The WGC in China should be a great event. Hope Westwood has recovered sufficiently to do himself justice....................

  • Comment number 2.

    Brilliant achievement by Lee and thoroughly deserved. Its always a joy to hear him speak as well, honest and intelligent. Lets just hope that he is fully recovered and isn't going to do any long term damage by coming back too soon just because he feels he has to.

  • Comment number 3.

    Westwood wasn't very special at Turnberry in the 2009 Open when standing on the 10th on Sunday afternoon, 3 shots clear of a field going backwards he posted the worst back 9 of the top 25 in the field.

    There's nothing great about a professional golfer who can't hit a wedge 120 yards dead distance under pressure.

    He did much the same in the US Open on the 71st hole failing to hit the green when leading the field.

    I think "choker" is a bit strong but its not too far of the mark.

  • Comment number 4.

    Bit harsh, that, Kittysdaddy. Cowen told me Westwood knows he should have won at Turnberry and in hindsight wouldn't have raced his putt past on 18, thinking he needed a birdie. But despite this missed opportunity the point is that he keeps putting himself in contention, as four top-three finishes in the last five majors he's played has shown. No-one can ever be perfect and win all the time - even Tiger and Jack will rue ones that got away - but he's currently most consistently good, hence being world number one.

  • Comment number 5.

    Although K'daddy's comments were a bit harsh there is some truth in them. I was a bit surprised to be read Pete Cowen going on about how Westwood is so good under pressure when we've seen for ourselves what he's like when leading or in the final group at majors. I'm sure he will get there and he needs to if he's truely to be considered No 1. I'm not having a dig but it took Phil Mickleson years to get his first major after continuously banging on the door and finnishing runner up and now 4 majors later and he still has never been world number one. Lee Westwood has been given this status because of Tigers "break" and i'm a firm believer in that the best are there because they deserve it. I'm not sure how long he's going to be at No 1 but it would be nice if he could cap his career off with a major victory.

  • Comment number 6.

    Top be fair, the majority of leaders in majors at 54 holes do not end up winning the thing. I think that we have been spoilt over the last decade by Tigers ability as a front runner so that we forget just how volatile a game golf is at times.

  • Comment number 7.

    Nice article Rob.
    Well done Lee Westwood, good luck in the hunt for a major.

  • Comment number 8.

    Lee has done it, however to be fair he looks a little uneasy with this status. Yes he did better overall to amass points but TW was losing them over the same period mostly by not playing for 6 months. Lee has the title and the real test of that title is how long you keep it. I suspect he will feel the pressure; as WN1 without a Major win. TW and his 14 majors, 260+ weeks as WN1 and only now falling to WN2 suggests there is a lot more to being the World's best player.

  • Comment number 9.

    Gonegolfin, you're oversimplifying badly. How many events did Tiger actually miss in his time away, much of which coincided with the off season? As Lee himself said on 606, Tiger lost top spot because he didn't win any of the tournaments he did enter in 2010. Westwood is simply playing better.

    As for the lack of Major win, is Louis Oosthuizen a better golfer than Colin Montgomerie? Is Joe Johnson a better snooker player than Jimmy White? Both Monty and Jimmy have had their heritage blighted by their failures on the biggest stage, but both too were clearly far superior to other players who won greater honours.

    By coincidence, top spot in women's tennis was also taken this week by a player yet to break her GS duck. Both have been runners-up, both are highly regarded by intelligent, unbiased observers of their sport. In my view, both will rise above the Safinas and Montys of their worlds to prove the doubters wrong in 2011.

  • Comment number 10.

    It's nice to see him world no. 1 but let's be honest, it's in name only.
    Tiger's sabbatical from the game is merely catching up him, because everybody knows that Tiger Woods is still he man to beat. His form may not be amazing at the moment but he will be back at the top soon, even if he never gets back to his previous best.

  • Comment number 11.

    Ummm all this talk of a sabatical for Tiger, but does no one realise that westwood has now had coming up to 2 months out. Also Tigers form when he did grace us was (understandably) appalling. Had he played i doubt he would have produced great results anyway.

    Now having watched first hand how Tiger was hitting it at the Ryder cup has me thinking it will be tough for Lee to hold onto i, but either way he deserves that No1 spot totally.

    Nice one Lee!

  • Comment number 12.



  • Comment number 13.

    Give Westwood a chance to win a major in the next year or two years and then call him a 'nearly man' and so on. The man's never played better golf in his life than now when he's been fit and he's only after missing the PGA Championship this year through injury when in top form.

    I can see him being incredibly focused on next year and winning one. Fairplay Westwood on becoming no.1.

  • Comment number 14.

    Great post Rob - it's so good to have an Englishman back at No1 and with an English golf coach too. Is there still a category in BBC Sports Personality of the Year called "Coach of the Year"?

    Surely, Pete Cowen must have a good chance; Westwood World No1 and 2nd in Masters, McDowell US Open Win and currently 2nd in Race for Dubai, Oosthuizen Open Championship Winner.....looks like he's doing something right and could be a front-runner (unless Harry Redknapp keeps getting Spurs to produce results like they did tonight!).

  • Comment number 15.

    I'm a big fan of Lee Westwood but it's hard to believe the ranking system makes sense when an injured player can become the world's number 1. Even when fit I find it hard to believe. His swing reveals his past as someone who has been through a terrible decline and then fought back. It is rigid and it seems like he has taken out all the flare so as not to risk another dip. He's done it very effectively but I question whether too much has been removed in the name of safety. At my infinitely lower level, it looks like what I do if I shank. I tense everything up on the next chip just to get the ball rolling in the right direction. With this type of swing (his not mine!!!) I don't think he'll win a major outside of a Paul Lawrie type situation.

    On the subject of Paul Lawrie, Westwood's US win this year came courtesy of a Jean van der Velde style mess from Robert Garrigus who took 7 on the 18th to gift Westwood the win. Westwood won (after par, par, bogey, birdie in a playoff) thanks to a -7 first round followed by three average rounds (-2, +1, -2). Without Garrigus's panic at the last Westwood would not be number 1.

    I sincerely hope he proves me wrong and wins the Grand Slam next year! Well, maybe leave one for Poulter!

  • Comment number 16.

    Lee will never win a major!!

    Next year, Woods will win at Augusta, Rory will win The Open, Phil will have his dream US Open and the 'real' world number one Martin Kaymer will defend his USPGA.

  • Comment number 17.

    An English sports journalist working for an English news corp wrote about Englishman golfer full of praise...
    I could not help being skeptical

  • Comment number 18.

    Many of those who comment on the ranking system to denigrate Westwood's status should have a look at how the system works. Comment that it's all because of Tiger's 'lay-off are wide of the mark - the ranking points are based on a rolling two-year period so, as the weeks pass, points drop off from 2 years ago and new points are added from the previous week. The average of ranking tournaments actually played leads to the final ranking score. In the last two years those averages are based on:
    Westwood played 46
    Woods played 40
    Kaymer played 48
    Mickleson played 43
    What it means is that Woods simply has not been scoring well enough (relative to his past performance) in the tournaments he has been in over the last two years, much of which pre-dates his 'troubles'. And it means that HE benefited from that fabulous past performance in staying at No 1 despite the 'lay-off. Woods is in a sense not penalised for not playing since it is an AVERAGE of tournaments played. Although by not playing, he has lost the opportunity to gain points, the cynic might argue that it's better not to play in a tournament than to play and come nowhere, as there would then be no points earned but the tournament would be included in the calculation of the average. So, in relation to the ranking system, it's better for a player who is 'off-colour', for whatever reason, NOT to play. So Tiger's lay off may have actually benefited him and enabled him to stay at No 1 for longer than he would otherwise have.
    'Best' can be defined in many ways - the ranking system is only one way and it's the one which 'is endorsed by the four Major Championships and the six professional tours which make up the International Federation of PGA Tours' Even using the ranking system, we could say that the 'best' golfers (at the moment) in the top 50 are Martin Kaymer and Matt Kuchar - they are the guys who are adding many more points than are dropping off.

  • Comment number 19.

    Whilst I think Lee deserves the World Number 1 slot I do not think he will last there long. Lee does not have a good enough shortgame, and I he is not very comfortable when placed in the spotlight. If we look at all the great Number 1 golfers (Seve, Faldo, Nicklaus, Tiger, Hogan etc) they all have a certain charisma and/or arrogance that sets them apart from the rest of the feild. Unfortunately I do not see these qualities in Lee.

  • Comment number 20.

    The vacancy only arises because of Woods' travails - that is obvious - but it's nevertheless a great achievement for Westwood and it's merited. Mickelson had multiple chances over the summer to take the number 1 ranking himself but blew it every single time. Going forward, I see Woods reclaiming the top spot but being very seriously challenged by Kaymer.


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