Leightweight Lee means business

By Martin Samuel, November 4, 2010
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The fifth hole at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma, is a 653-yard monster, for many years the longest par five in major championshipgolf. Tournaments often take place there in searing heat, making it
especially daunting.

When Hubert Green won the US Open at Southern Hills in 1977, temperatures soared well into the high 90s, to the extent that the greens became glasslike, and almost unplayable. Players were reduced to waiting on tees and fairways, while water was hosed onto the putting surface before playing. The crowds were also doused to prevent fainting. At the end, the head of the United States Golf Association said the tournament would never travel this far south again.

It took 14 years, but eventually the USGA relented and Southern Hills hosted the US Open once more. It was still hot, still unforgiving. Walking the course, a bottle of water needed to be consumed every other hole, and the fifth got one to itself. I returned to the press tent on final practice day drenched in sweat and head pounding, to find one of my colleagues placing his bets for the week. He was investing heavily in the two form players from GB, Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke.

"I've just been out there," I told him. "Take it from me, no fat bloke stands a chance. Whoever wins this is going to be skinny and as fit as a butcher's dog."

Westwood and Clarke were in considerably better shape than your correspondent, but even so I wasn't wrong. The 2001 US Open championship was won by the very lithe Retief Goosen after a play-off with the equally limber Mark Brooks. The only golfer in the top 20 who could possibly be classed as carrying a bit of extra was Angel Cabrera, tied seventh. And Clarke and Westwood missed the cut.

Nearly a decade later and Westwood is ranked the number one golfer in the world. He is still without that major championship win, however. Some say it does not matter, but majors define golfers. Without one, any record can be picked at. That bum only got to the top because Tiger Woods cracked up. Hell, he never even won a major.

See?

In the coming years, that should change. The greatest improvement in Westwood is not in the game, but the man. If a heatwave strikes Bathseda, Maryland, venue of the US Open in 2011, or Johns Creek, Georgia, where the PGA Championship will be held in August, Westwood will be ready. His fitness coach, Steve McGregor, says he has lost 60 per cent in body fat in the last four years. That is the difference between mastering a course like Southern Hills, and merely enduring it.

Golf was a last bastion, but there are very few sports where fitness does not play a huge part. The days when Jack Simmons, the famously flat spinner, would begin pre-season training with Lancashire by throwing up at the end of his first lap around Old Trafford are long gone. Fitness can cost a man his place in a Test team now; just as it cost Westwood major opportunities to the benefit of inferior golfers.

No more. His rise through the rankings is no surprise because the talent was never in doubt. Now the athlete has arrived, too. Westwood He will take some stopping next season, however high the mercury rises.

    Last updated: 4:30pm, November 4 2010