Lee said he would try golf. He liked it immediately, and before long he had a handicap. The handicap was 54, but it was still golf ' sort of.
My, what a ride! Three years later, Lee was playing to scratch at Worksop. In three more years, at 19, he turned professional. In his third season as a pro, he finished sixth on the European Tour money list. And five years after he turned pro ' at the age of 24 ' he won in the United States.
Westwood came to New Orleans that week in April to get ready for the Masters, which was the following week. He had just played in the 1998 Players Championship and finished in impressive fashion, shooting 68-69 on the weekend to tie for fifth. The Masters would be a letdown for Westwood, whose 300 score was 44th of the 46 players who made the cut. But for that one shining week in New Orleans at the Freeport-McDermott Classic, Brit Westwood was as perfect as perfect can be.
Westwood wasnt particularly impressive the first round. He played well with a 69, but that was five shots off the pace set by Glen Day, sizzling with an 8-under 64.
Westwood moved up the second day with a 68, though still three behind new leader Steve Flesch. But the third day, another round in the 60s ' this time 67 ' shot him to the top of the scoreboard. He owned a one-stroke lead over Flesch and two over Duffy Waldorf as the final day began Sunday.
He began to squeeze the life out of the field halfway through the round. A birdie at 10, then one at No. 11, gave him a little breathing room. The one on 11 was really impressive, a 40-foot putt that told the rest of the field, You better really play well if you want to keep this trophy from going back with me to England!
Westwood wasnt quite that boisterous, of course. But he was quietly confident.
You have to hole the putts when they count, he said. Fortunately for me, I got the killer blow in at the right time. Its a case of driving the nail in when you have to.Westwoods lead was up to five by the time he got to the 14th. There, he suffered a blow that might have knocked the props out from under a lesser player. Preparing to stroke a 30-foot putt from light rough, the ball jumped up slightly and caught his blade on top. One-stroke penalty for the double-hit and to make matters worse, the ball finished 10 feet from the hole on that roller.
Westwood took a deep breath and surveyed the situation. Then, facing a double bogey, he drilled the 10-footer into the back of the cup. Never even flinched, said Flesch, and Westwood got out of the hole with just a bogey.
Westwood had one more nerve-shaking encounter. The very next hole, the 15th, is a par-5 with the green surrounded by water. The hole had already extracted a 13 from Fulton Allem and an 11 from Scott Verplank earlier in the tournament.
But Westwood defied conventional wisdom, disdaining the 2-iron and striping a driver down the left side of the fairway. He only had 185 left to the pin, and naturally he went for it, getting there with a 5-iron. It was easily on the green, and two putts later he had another birdie. It was time to polish up the trophy for the plane ride to England.
Just another easy win for a very cool customer? Well, not exactly. Westwood described the day, giving the press one of the best quotes of 1998:
It was harder than it looked, he said. I was like a swan ' sort of gliding on the top, but my legs were paddling underneath.
Westwood would reach the mountain-top two years later when he won the European Tour Order of Merit for being the tours top money-winner. However, his marriage to the sister of tour pro Andrew Coltart, Laurae, produced a boy last year. Westwood missed the Masters as his wife was in labor. He played only sparingly thereafter, settling for a finish of 58th on the money list.
He momentarily rebounded last year with a third-place in the Volvo Scandinavian Masters in August. I proved I hadnt lost the habit of being in contention you dont win tournaments by playing well and thinking poorly.
He injured his wrist at the end of August in WGC-NEC Invitational and that hampered him somewhat. He currently stands No. 61 on the money list this year as the European Tour gets into the heart of its schedule. He has plenty of time to make some giant steps, although he needs to get to work. His son just had his first birthday and Westwood is ready to go back fulltime.
Never, though, will he forget that wonderful week in New Orleans when it all went just as planned.