Westwood's transformation down to hard work on and off the course
Englishman has become world's best golfer after improving his fitness which boosted his self-esteem, reports James Corrigan
Monday 01 November 2010
If Roberto Mancini is searching for some inspiration to fire his City slackers then he may just find it on his vast Manchester payroll. Steve McGregor, the fitness coach who recently started consultancy work at Eastlands, is the man credited with transforming Lee Westwood into the world's best golfer
Westwood himself has crooned about the influence McGregor has had on a career which seemed to be stalling after a recovery from a mid-career slump and yesterday his manager, Chubby Chandler, expanded on the relationship which led to Britain boasting its third golfing No 1.
"To go from No 259 in the world to No 1 will never be done again, but then I can't see anybody going from No 4 to 259 either," said Chandler. "You can't underplay the effect McGregor has had. The training has given Lee a massive presence. You only have to look at him at last year's Dubai World Championship or at the Ryder Cup, where he walked around Celtic Manor like he owned the place: 'I am Lee Westwood, and I am the best player here'."
Now the rankings agree with the body language and this week Tiger Woods will feel obliged to bow to a superior before he even tees off in the HSBC Champions in Shanghai. He would be well advised to, as the tale of how Westwood rescaled the golfing Eiger after such a dramatic fall in 2002 should prove an incentive to anybody who is on the way down and struggling to see the way back up.
"Lee got to No 4 in the world before he was 30, probably not realising what he was doing. He won 24 tournaments unaware of how hard it was," said Chandler. "At one stage he had a last-day scoring average of 66, which is phenomenal."
But then it began to unravel and all too soon it had fallen apart. "Lee's form was just going," recalled Chandler. "I walked around with him at the Players Championship in 2001. He was about sixth after 27 holes, then pulled a couple in water. He was just trying to change a few things to get around Augusta a few weeks later, trying to draw it and couldn't.
"Then he had six weeks off when his first baby was born. He came back with no confidence and had a couple of bad performances. You see it with a lot of players – they loseconfidence and all of a sudden the game is hard." Hard? Try impossible. Everywhere he went Westwood would either encounter a brick wall or, more regularly, an out-of-bounds marker. "He had two years of humiliation," said Chandler, who also oversees the careers of Rory McIlroy, Ernie Els and Darren Clarke. "There were a lot of questions why and I learnt as well. All the changes of coaches were crazy. You are searching for an answer: 'Perhaps we should go to [David] Leadbetter, perhaps we should try this, do that.' None of it worked."
What eventually did work was a return to his old ways, although the blissful ignorance of youth would obviously not be so easily recovered. After hanging around the top 20, with the occasional promising surge south or worrying lurch north, Westwood decided to embark on a new phase of his career.
"When Lee eventually decided to get fit in 2006 he just happened to have the best man on hand," said Chandler, who was introduced to McGregor by David O'Leary. "Steve came to us from Aston Villa when David was manager. He was his sports science doctor. He worked with Birmingham last year and it was no coincidence they were available to field the same team for 10 straight matches last season. Little wonder Manchester City have hired him.
"Lee is massively strong. He benches more than 100kg. We will soon be seeing pictures of him in the gym posing for pictures covered in baby oil. You have to have the discipline to do it, which Lee has. The guy is unbelievably structured. You only have to look at his wife [Laurae].
"She has lost about 25lb going in the gym with him. Lee likes the results of it. He carries himself totally differently."
And not just on the course, either. With No 1 comes other responsibilities and Chandler is certain that this laid-back character, who sometimes sounds sardonic, is ready to assume them. "You can see Lee maturing in front of your eyes," he said. "He managed to come across as a bit of a whinger for a long time because he was honest. We started looking at the forums on the internet to see how people perceived him. It helped us to put a few things right so he does not come across as a person who is not grateful for what he has."
What he has is a plan – and it is not one which will necessarily impress the Americans. "It is a big commitment from Lee, a lifestyle thing, he has completely cut out the drink," said Chandler. "Recently we sat down – Lee, me, Steve, and his caddie Billy [Foster]. It was like a little board of directors and I was the chairman. I asked Lee what his goals were, knowing full well it was the majors. OK what's next? World No 1. After that? Win tournaments and make some cash, but that was a long way back in his priorities.
"This was the conversation where we decided he wouldn't go on the US tour in 2011. He would have only gone on that to play the FedEx Cup. That is all about cash and he is not about that. So we worked his schedule around the majors and included four weeks when he won't do anything but training in his gym at home. As well as picking the kids up."
Yet it will not just be little Sam and Poppy who will gain from their father's continued refusal to chase the dollar. "Staying here makes a massive difference not only to Lee, but to the European Tour," pointed out Chandler. "To have the world No 1 playing the tour is a real, real boost.
"The Tour needs promoting more and they should be shouting from the roof tops about how good their players are. [Martin] Kaymer is going to end up at No 1 at some stage soon. Fancy that. You might end up with two or three Europeans vying for No 1."
What would Woods think about that? Team Westwood is not too bothered. For as Chandler says they now have "The Man" in their corner and nobody is happier than the bagman. "Billy has also helped with Lee since he's been with him these last few years," said Chandler. "He is a great caddie and a great lad. There was never a chance – when Tiger was having his problems and everybody was saying that Billy was going to get the job – that he would have gone to Tiger. He wanted to stay where he was because he knew what he had." Indeed, no less than the future No 1.
The 13 world No 1s
Weeks Name Majors
623 T Woods (US) 14
331 G Norman (Aus) 2
98 N Faldo (GB) 6
61 S Ballesteros (Sp) 5
50 I Woosman (Wal) 1*
44 N Price (Zim) 3
32 V Singh (Fiji) 3
16 F Couples (US) 1*
15 D Duval (US) 1*
9 Els (SA) 3
3 B Langer (Ger) 2
1 T Lehman (US) 1
1 L Westwood (GB) 0*
*Became world No 1 before winning a major
Past British world No 1s
Since the inception of the world ranking system in 1986 there had been only British No 1s before Westwood's accession
Nick Faldo. The Englishman
Topped the ranking on four different occasions, the first time in 1990, the last in 1994. He is one of only three golfers (Greg Norman and Tiger Woods being the others) to have held the position for a full calendar year. With 98 weeks in total only Norman (331 weeks) and Woods (623 weeks) have held it longer.
Ian Woosnam. The Welshman
Became the fifth player to top the rankings the week before winning the 1991 Masters. Woosnam then held on to the No 1 tag for 50 weeks before giving way to Fred Couples in the run-up to the 1992 Masters.
And two Scots who almost made it...
Sandy Lyle almost overhauled Greg Norman at the top in 1988 when winning the Greensboro Open and then, the week after, the Masters. Finished seventh on the US Tour money list that year but never recovered that form, as his game fell apart the following year. Colin Montgomerie, the eight-times Order of Merit winner, held the No 2 ranking more than once but never came closer to assuming the top position than when losing the 1997 US Open play-off to Ernie Els. Montgomerie spent more than 400 weeks in the top 10 and only Davis Love and Phil Mickelson have chalked up more top 10 weeks without being No 1.
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