From junior champion to World No. 1: How Westwood found success by keeping things familiar
At some point soon, maybe 2022 in Italy, you would imagine Lee Westwood will be appointed Europe’s Ryder Cup captain. It will maybe not bring down the curtain on a glittering career but would make a very nice thank you for all his efforts.
The 45-year-old joined the European Tour in 1994, has won 23 times on it and has helped Europe to seven wins in his 10 matches against the Americans – he hasn’t missed a match since his debut in 1997. This time around he will be one of Thomas Bjorn’s assistants, that is if he doesn’t make it which you wouldn’t put past him.
There have been a number of constants along the way – he has been with Ping since his teenage years, he has relied upon some sound swing principles and he remains one of the most impressive drivers of a ball.
Here, in a clinic at Ping’s HQ at Gainsborough, he shares some of his nuggets as he went from the Nottinghamshire junior champion to World No. 1.
On his Ryder Cup debut…
I made my Ryder Cup debut alongside Nick Faldo which was amazing as he was a hero of mine growing up. We played some practice rounds together and he showed me where to hit it.
I remember standing on the 17th and I was on the tee with Faldo, Langer and Woosie with Seve behind us.
Seve tells us that we would be playing together in the Friday fourballs, I was 23 at the time, and Nick says ‘I’ll tee off first, you’ll be nervous.’
We were playing against Brad Faxon and Fred Couples and Brad’s hands are shaking all over the place as he is putting the ball on the tee and he has played in one before. Freddie is nice and loose as ever and he hits one away. And Nick then looks at me and says, ‘Go on then.’
On his relationship with Ping…
I started with Ping with a set of Eye 2s and I won the Notts County Championship in 1987 and, 31 years later, I am still with the same company.
I grew up playing at Worksop. I once played there with a guy who shanked it off the 18th tee. The car park is next to the clubhouse and we heard some glass smashing. He had put the ball through the back window of his own car!
I have still got the same JZ shafts that I used when I was 17. I have never been a big fan of having too stiff a shaft in my irons as I like to work the ball both ways and hitting it high is so important these days.
On his bag set-up…
I now carry the Crossover that I can hit 290 yards so that is really useful on a links course or if I want to run one out there. Billy [Foster] got mine made up for me – it doesn’t go very high but it does go straight. If we’re on a tight hole we can throw it on the ground, put in the back my stance and drive it out there and keep it below the wind.
I’ve struggled over the years to carry a 2-iron but the thickness of the sole helps and it sits like there’s a lot of club behind it so it is easier to hit.
At Augusta I’ll put the 5-wood in. You are faced with one shot, at the 3rd, between 90 and 150 yards so there is no point carrying four wedges that week. And the 5-wood helps with the par 5s and holes like the 11th.
On his yardages…
I’ve got them written on the back of my wedges. We introduced that in Abu Dhabi last year when my girlfriend caddied for me and she had no idea how far I hit my clubs. So I gauged them on TrackMan and wrote them on the back and even Billy likes it now.
The sand iron carries 109, the utility wedge 121, pitching wedge 136, 9-iron 145, 8-iron 165 and 7-iron 180 – I spin the ball a lot so I don’t want to hit the wedges full out.
Some of the clubs are bent strong, all the lads do that as it’s not so much the number on the club, more the yardages that we can hit with it.
In practice I tend not to use my lob wedge too much as, I could hit that many shots and bunker shots, I could get through four or five sets of wedges as. I want to keep the grooves sharp.
On his favourite club…
The driver is still my favourite club. I used to stand on the range and bash drivers all day and that is the best part of my game. Now I spend more time on the chipping and putting greens, that’s where I can shave the most shots off my game and there is less damage to my body. I’m 45 and I’ll be aching if I hit drivers for three hours.
My current driver is the Ping G400 driver which I have at 10˚. My ideal spin rate is between 2400-2700 rpms, I’ll launch it about 11˚, anything around 2,300 and it starts shooting off sideways.
I’ve used an Aldila shaft for a long time, mine is 60-gram, extra stiff and tipped but otherwise it’s pretty standard.
The safe shot for me is the fade. I’ll really tee it down and squeeze one out there, it might not go as far but it will get you in play under some pressure. As long as I keep turning my body left then it won’t go left. It breaks a lot of tees that one.
Read on for some of Lee’s favourite tips…