On and off the course, England’s Lee Westwood has made so many changes in the past eight months that it might appear he is desperate to shake things up in an effort to win that elusive first major championship.
It’s the most glaring omission in a résumé that features 22 weeks at No. 1 in the world, 39 worldwide victories, a key role on six European Ryder Cup victories in eight appearances and two European Tour money-list titles.
The changes – a move from his native England to full-time residence in Florida and the firing of his longtime short-game coach, Pete Cowen, and caddie, Billy Foster – sound like they’re coming from a player who feels his window of opportunity might be closing.
The theory that the clock is ticking would be wrong, according to Westwood, who said he made the move across the Atlantic to “come and live in the sunshine.”
“I’ve been looking to move for a couple of years,” he said. “Just getting frustrated with the weather in the winters in England, not being able to work as hard as I would like and, you know, coming out at the start of the year, really feeling too rusty.”
Yes, he’s approaching 40, but with his improved fitness level, Westwood doesn’t discount being competitive for many years to come.
So, why the wholesale changes now?
“Just seemed like the right time,” said Westwood, who moved his family to Florida in December. “I played on the PGA Tour a lot last season and really enjoyed it and fancied a new challenge with the family. The prospect of being somewhere warm was appealing, and the kids were a good age to move. So the family is happy and I can work a lot on my game at the same time. I can’t see how the move won’t help.”
Westwood is playing out of the Old Palm in Palm Beach Gardens, near his new residence.
“There’s real structure to my practicing now,” he said. “When it was a clear day in Worksop (his home in England), I just had to get out and practice. But now I know it’s going to be sunny every day. So I can go to the gym when I should, hit balls when I should, etc. I’m no longer having to make up all that ground.”
The first test of how these changes will play out in majors comes in the Masters Tournament, where Westwood has a stellar record recently. In the past five Masters, he has finished out of the top 11 only once (2009). He was second in 2010 and tied for third in 2012.
The breakthrough could come in any of the majors this year. Last season was the fourth consecutive year he had at least one top-3 finish in a major. He had two in 2012, tying for 10th in the U.S. Open in addition to tying for third in the Masters.
There is one added bit of pressure on Westwood in the Masters. It will be his last chance to win a major before turning 40. His birthday is April 24. He is 0-for-59 in majors.
“It doesn’t bother me a bit turning 40 or that people say I’ve only one chance if I want to win a major before I turn 40,” he insists. “That would be putting a bit of pressure on myself. No, I try hard year every year.”
Westwood is also a “young 39” because of a serious fitness regimen.
“I feel fitter now than I did when I was 30, so that’s a good start,” he said. “If you ask my trainer, he would probably say I’m stronger and fitter. I think part of the key is retaining the enthusiasm to keep going out and practicing, keep traveling the world. I’ve got two kids so, you know, obviously it gets harder to be away.
“But there’s no problem with that at the moment. I’m keen to keep going out on the range. I enjoy practicing and working out. Hopefully, I will win one major before I’m 40 and win some more when I’m in my 40s. You look at Vijay Singh’s career, he’s been very successful after the age of 40.”