Lee Westwood: No major changes for Westy

World No 3 will stick to his tried and trusted routine despite the greater rewards at the US Open this week, he tells Kevin Garside

The first tee is a statement all its own, an enclosed chamber posted high above the course leading on to a fairway that falls away to the right behind a wall of trees. It should read "This is Olympic Club" in the manner of Anfield. Following the trace of the ball through the air is the first of many heart-thumping moments to wobble the participants, a test of nerve even on the first day of practice for the US Open.

Into this iconic setting walked Lee Westwood, calm as you like munching a chicken wrap fresh from the players' lounge. He might have been tending the barbecue at home, chatting casually among those assembled. "Where's Robert [Karlsson]? Is he not here yet? Probably too embarrassed after watching Sweden against Ukraine," intoned the Worksop wit in the manner of the northern club comedian.

Karlsson wasn't coming. In his stead jumped Scott Smith, a sprightly young American in his rookie year as a professional. He had his brother on the bag and a chum from his hometown, Reno, in the group. Westwood extended a hand to set the freshman at ease. "Good luck," he said, making the kid's day. Through the eyes of Smith, Westwood appeared a golfing deity, the world No 3 entering his world on the back of a 40th career victory.

Only marginally less awed was Matt Baldwin, an ISM stablemate of Westwood's negotiating his first year on the European Tour. Baldwin started well in Sweden and made another cut but admitted that he had been fighting his game. Baldwin is a fine golfer yet in every aspect of this shared first-tee ritual he was entering uncharted space alongside Westwood.

It is in brief snapshots like these that we come to understand just how powerful a force Westwood is. Try telling Baldwin and Smith that Westwood is a lesser being for the lack of a major championship. These two are finding out the hard way how tough it is just to make the weekend at events, let alone contend. They understood the privilege bestowed by the moment, a tutorial with a master of his trade at the US Open.

The last time Westwood walked this way in 1998 he tied seventh. It was his second US Open and came on the back of his fourth professional success. He recalls little of Olympic Club that week bar a memory of "iffy" greens. He was in the foothills of his first career ascent, a climb that would take him two years later to fourth in the world. He has known despair since, of course, but this rich phase of his career is approaching a new peak.

As they experimented with three-woods off the sixth, Baldwin asked Westwood if he could video the Worksop man's swing. "Sure, no problem." Baldwin wanted to record one of the most impressive bio-mechanical rhythms in golf and post it to his brother as a memento of his day.

In a quiet aside as we walked down the fairway, Baldwin articulated his respect, arguing that nobody he had seen up close had quite the control of a golf ball that Westwood displayed. "He was unbelievable in Sweden," Baldwin said. "It was a fantastic course but I couldn't see 19-under out there at all. Rory [McIlroy] is brilliant, but Lee's ball-striking is special."

Baldwin described the challenge presented by Olympic Club as "mental". This was a departure of a monumental scale for him, and his enthusiasm for it was obvious. For Westwood this was just another day at work, or at least, that is the message he wanted to convey.

"Everybody tries to do too much at these majors, more than they need to in terms of their preparation," Westwood said. "I just try to treat it like every other week. It's a tough course, the first six holes in particular. The fairways are tricky and narrow but I don't mind that. The tougher the test the better I seem to play, so I'm looking forward to it.

"My game is in good shape. I don't see this as any different to last week. Just like Sweden I have come here to win. I don't see the need to do anything different just because it is a major. I know people make a big deal about it being a major. And, of course, I would love to win one but I don't think it helps me to change too much in my routines. The key is to stay patient, keep everything on an even keel, do your work and hope you get that little bit of luck you need. To win around here you need a lot of patience and to hit it straight. I think I have enough experience to show the patience required and I tend to hit it pretty straight."

Indeed so. Westwood is grouped in the opening two rounds with world No 1 Luke Donald and No 2 Rory McIlroy, with whom he enjoyed a practice round yesterday. The British trio head the second half of the draw going out in the afternoon tomorrow – with Tiger Woods, Bubba Watson and Phil Mickelson in the Hollywood slot in the morning. It is the way of things in the TV age, a feature which Westwood takes in his stride. "I get on very well with Rory and Luke and enjoy playing with them so that should be an advantage," he said.

Westwood's name is always high on the list of candidates expected to triumph at the US Open, a tournament that traditionally rewards technique and strategy above power and length. Olympic Club adds its own quirky dimension with its cambered fairways and small greens, but offers nothing to scare Westwood. "The big change is the greens. In 1998 they were very iffy. Now they are pure. If it stays like this the lads will be rolling them in from everywhere."

Westwood won by five shots in Sweden with a new set of clubs in the bag, including a new putter. If he gets the ball rolling around here, the putter will no longer be the stick with which to beat him, nor will Worksop be a major-free zone.

14-year-old replaces Casey at Olympic

The 14-year-old Andy Zhang will become the youngest player at the US Open since the Second World War tomorrow when he tees up in place of Paul Casey, who has withdrawn through injury.

The Florida-based prodigy Zhang just missed out on qualifying in a play-off. Born in China, he has lived in the States since he was 10, having taken up golf at six. His mother is with him in San Francisco, but his father returned to China thinking his son would remain a reserve for the second major of the season.

Zhang is not the youngest player in major history. Young Tom Morris played in the Open at 14 years and four months in 1865.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum