South Florida has long lured professional golfers from Europe, but Lee Westwood held out. While others moved into sprawling homes in gated developments, Westwood, 39, toiled away on his farm in Worksop, England, smacking balls in the cold and the rain and putting on a practice green he could never get to roll fast enough. He clashed with the PGA Tour over its onerous restrictions for nonmembers and, as if to underscore his point, skipped the 2011 Players.
That seems like a long, long time ago. Today, Westwood is a newly transplanted South Floridian. His kids are in school in West Palm Beach, where in late August he bought a house at swanky Old Palm. He's driving on the right side of the road. And he can't stop hollering, "You da man!" (Okay, strike that last part.) Westwood sat down to reflect on the big move, converting kilos to pounds, and what fans can expect from him next.
You've come a long way in two years. The last time we spoke at length it was about your belief that the PGA Tour was too restrictive to nonmembers.
I can't remember what that was about. [Laughs]
What changed your outlook?
I think I just enjoy playing here a lot more now. The [modern] game seems suited to the courses here. I get great support over here. Every week is the same, to be honest. The fans were great at the U.S. Open in San Francisco, and I thought the New York fans [at the Barclays at Bethpage Black] were fantastic — a lot of cheers, "C'mon, Lee! C'mon, Westy!"
You've bought a home in Palm Beach Gardens. What's it like?
Has it got a pool for the kids?
The pool's for me.
Where will you play most of your golf?
I'm a member at Old Palm. That's where I'll do my practicing. Charl [Schwartzel] and Louis [Oosthuizen] play there. We had a couple of good games when we were down there the week before the Barclays. It's good to be around good golfers, to play with them regularly. It keeps you sharp.
And that's what this move to America is about, right?
I didn't really play much golf in Worksop when I was away from the tournaments. I spent most of my time practicing and hitting balls. I had my own practice facility, short game and long game, but I can't get the greens as quick as I'd like, and with the conditions, practicing in the rain is not the same as practicing in the sun. Putting on greens that are 8, 9 on the Stimpmeter, and then going to tournaments where the greens are 11 or 12, I was having to make an adjustment other guys don't have to.
Will you keep your place in Worksop?
No, I'm selling it. I don't spend enough time there. We had 12 good years there. I enjoyed going up there.
You're not exactly just dipping your toe in the water in America. You're all in.
Yeah, I've been thinking about it for a while.
You've said, "We see this as at least a five-year plan."
At least five years, yeah — I've got to give it a good chance. I'm out to prolong my career.
Did Rory McIlroy's move to South Florida earlier last year inspire you to follow suit?
I don't think he has [officially moved]. You'd have to ask him. He rented a place at the start of the year.
How's your relationship? You've been cast as the big brother McIlroy never had, dispensing tough love. And you seemed irked when he left your mutual agent, Chubby Chandler, in 2011.
I think we have a decent relationship. We're not close, but we get on well when we [see each other]. We spent more time together when Rory was with Chubby. He gets on with Graeme [McDowell] well, so he spends a good bit of time with Graeme, I think.
Were you personally hurt when Rory left Chubby for another manager?
Is that what this interview is about? It was a business decision between him and Chubby. It isn't any of my business.
Let's talk about Europe's dramatic win at the Ryder Cup. What moment about the week will you never forget?
There were so many memorable moments, particularly on the last day, but I'll never forget the feeling of relief when Martin [Kaymer] sank the putt that meant we retained the cup.
At what point did you say to yourself, "We might just pull this off"?
We all knew we had to get off to a fast start [in singles], and Luke [Donald] led us off by example. The fact that there was always blue at the top of the board built up hope, and then when it became a more solid blue, it put more pressure on, put more confidence into those following to keep up the momentum. I think after Sergio [Garcia]'s win, the feeling turned to expectation as much as hope.
Did you have "a feeling," as Ben Crenshaw famously did in 1999, that it would all go your way Sunday?
The one thing about every European side I have played in, is that if it looks like we're going to go down, then we go down fighting. I wouldn't say it was so much "a feeling," just a collective desire to give absolutely everything to a cause that many outside the camp, but not inside, felt was a lost one.
U.S. captain Davis Love III said he had a conversation with you after it was all over that you "probably won't remember." Describe the revelry that night.
Let's just say it was among the most memorable of celebrations — although I haven't been part of a bad one yet.
You look vastly different than you did 10 years ago. Tell us about your workouts, led by your trainer, Steve McGregor.
Basically it was something I wasn't doing, and most of the other guys were; golf courses were getting longer, rough was getting thicker. I felt like I needed to be stronger. At the same time McGregor was looking to get out of football. He got out about six years ago, and that's when we got together. We've been building up. He's really scientific about it, documents it. We do tests all the time, like one rep, maxing out on chest press, at 120-125 kilos. I don't know what that is in pounds. I suppose I need to find out now. [It's 265-275 pounds.]
Will you have to hire a new trainer?
No, no, he's going to come with me, I think. He works with the New York Knicks, as well. He's based in England but I think he'll relocate somewhere near to me. I don't know exactly. He does a bit of work with Rory as well.
You're 39. It must give you hope to see Vijay Singh contending for the PGA and the Barclays at 49, and Ernie Els winning the Open at 42.
I think the lads keep themselves in shape more than they used to, so the careers go on a bit longer. Steve Stricker is about 45, isn't he, playing well still. It's nice to see Darren [Clarke] winning the Open, Ernie winning the Open. As long as you can keep the enthusiasm in your mind, staying driven, then you can play golf into your mid-40s quite successfully.
You played well at the end of the 2012 season.
I think this is the best I've played in my career, the last two or three years. I've played well in the big tournaments, the majors, which I didn't do early in my career. I'm much more consistent.
You're knocking on the door.
That's all you can keep doing, isn't it? One day it opens.
Ernie's win at the Open last year seemed to prove that.
Absolutely, yeah. People could say it dropped in his lap, but you have to put yourself in a position to be able to catch it. You have to take the opportunities when they come, don't you? You have to be in position to win the tournament. He put some pressure on.
Why did you sever ties with your swing coach, Pete Cowen?
We stopped working after the PGA Championship. To be honest I didn't do that much work on the long game with Pete. I've been doing that by myself for five or six years. We worked mainly on the short game.
What can you tell us about your new coach, Tony Johnstone?
I've been working with him on the short game, and that seems to have worked well. He plays on the European Senior Tour now; he used to play on the European Tour. He's from Zimbabwe. He won the [British] PGA Championship at Wentworth in '92. He lives in London. But he'll be able to come to tournaments, fly out now and again. I'm quite low maintenance, really. I don't need someone watching me all the time.
One of the lasting images of you in the 2012 majors is the one of you holding a pair of binoculars up to your eyes as you searched for your ball in a cypress tree in the fourth round of the U.S. Open at Olympic. Did you feel like you got unlucky there?
Well, obviously I hit it off-line, but any time it sticks in a tree you feel a little bit unlucky. It was not a great time to get a bad break.
You were three strokes off the lead at that point. Do you think you'd have maybe won the tournament without that happening?
You don't know. I'd got some nice momentum. I played the first four holes well. I doubled at the wrong time; you're chasing then, and you don't really want to be chasing on a U.S. Open golf course. I didn't play well enough.
There were a lot of guys who were on the cusp of winning in 2012 who lost big leads. Do you work with a psychologist or anyone to address the mental side?
No, I don't really do much with psychologists, stuff like that. I think it's just a trend this year. I remember coming from five, six behind in tournaments. It's just happened a lot this year.
Do you look back with regret at the ones that got away, like the Open at Turnberry in '09, when you three-putted 18 to miss out on the Stewart Cink–Tom Watson playoff?
I think you have to look back and try and learn from it more than anything. I don't think there's any point in dwelling on it, crying over spilt milk, that type of thing.
What was the lesson from Turnberry?
Not to get ahead of myself, really, or try and predict what people are going to do. Just play each shot on its merits and focus on your own game.
Let's look ahead to the 2013 majors. How have you fared at Merion, Muirfield, and Oak Hill?
I haven't played Merion. I've heard it's very good. I'll try and get there before the tournament and play it. I played Oak Hill the year Shaun Micheel won. [Trying to play his way out of a mid-career slump, Westwood shot 73-78 to miss the cut at the '03 PGA at Oak Hill.] Muirfield is very good. It's one of the best links courses in the country. It depends on the weather, of course, like all links courses. [He shot 72-73 to miss the cut at the '02 Open at Muirfield.
It would be ironic if you won the Open after moving to America.
Yeah, it would, wouldn't it?
Anything else in your life changing? New equipment?
Nothing's changing. Ping got me a set of golf clubs when I was 14, 15 years old, and I've been with them ever since. And I've been with Titleist my whole career as well. There are enough other variables in golf.
Presumably you'll get back to England a fair bit?
Yeah, my mum and dad are in England. I've got friends back in England. I'll make the odd trip back there, and go back and play tournaments.
How are you getting your cars over here?
I'm not. The steering wheel is on the wrong side. [Laughs]
That would be a problem.
It's a good excuse to buy a new car, though.
Have you spoken much to Jack Nicklaus about the move? He seems to be the dean of the Tour pros in South Florida.
No, I haven't spoken to anybody really. I've talked a bit to Ernie. I don't think there's a lot not to like about living in West Palm Beach. I don't think I'll be short for a game down there.
Watson proved at Turnberry that you don't peak in golf until you're 59. What can we expect from you in the next 20 years?
Who knows? But it'll be great if I'm playing in the Open when I'm 59. It'll mean I've won it.
This article originally appeared in the January 2013 issue of Golf Magazine, on newstands now. Click here to subscribe to Golf Magazine and to learn about Golf Magazine All Access.