Westwood: I must lighten up

IF THE opening moments of his pre-tournament press conference are anything to go by, Lee Westwood may be taking his plan of not trying too hard to finally land his first major, a little too far.

The world number two from Nottinghamshire has pinpointed his failure to convert five top-three finishes in his last eight major outings as a case of having put too much pressure on himself and after years of resistance to the idea of sports psychology he has turned to Dr Bob Rotella in order to help the 38-year-old reach his holy grail.

Rotella told him to lighten up, but when the new, relaxed Westwood was told he tied for 44th on his last visit to the Atlanta Athletic Club for the 2001 PGA Championship, he questioned the information.

“I made the cut? Really? I thought I missed the cut. You sure?”

When it was confirmed he had indeed made the cut and he was informed of his scores that week, Westwood’s response underlined that when it did come to being more light-hearted he really meant business.

“I played nicely in 2001,” he said, not missing a beat. “Shot a couple of 68s, really loved the course and happy to be back. Good memories.”

If that is reminiscent of the new, relaxed Darren Clarke that emerged smiling and grinning at Royal St George’s three weeks ago following a tournament-week session with Rotella, then the omens are exceedingly good.

Westwood kept the wisecracks going throughout his 30 minutes in front of the media but underlining it all is a deadly serious approach.

He has in recent weeks turned to short-game guru and two-time PGA champion Dave Stockton to fine-tune his putting; he has lost nine pounds in three weeks; he is setting personal bests in the weight room (dead-lifting 354 pounds; a “Chubby and a quarter”, he joked at the expense of his rotund manager) and, thanks to his time with Rotella, he is trying hard to not try hard.

Describing his new approach to majors as “a lot more light-hearted, relaxed,” Westwood explained: “It’s a very media-driven world we all live in now, not just with the TV and (press), but you look at Facebook and Twitter and 24-hour news and stuff like that. It can really all just get too much and you can start to believe it.

“You know, just laugh; laugh it off, really, and have fun out there and try to have fun. That’s the mentality I’m trying to get back to.

“I’ve done all the hard work now. Done it for 20 years. It’s time to just relax and let it flow.”

Clarke, Westwood’s close friend and fellow Chubby Chandler management mainstay, certainly sees no harm in the approach.

“Lee is trying to get the best out of himself that he possibly can, and obviously with people, especially from the same stable, winning majors all around him, it’s an avenue he has not explored in the past, and certainly working with Dr Bob, it can’t do any harm,” Clarke said.

“It can’t be a negative effect; it can only be a positive one.

“Whether Lee sticks with it or not, because he’s always been very mentally strong anyway, we shall see. But I certainly don’t think it will do him any harm whatsoever. It can only do him good.”

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Join us for a special evening of Cheltenham chat on Friday March 12 at 6.30pm with racing legend and Irish Examiner columnist Ruby Walsh, Irish Examiner racing correspondent Tommy Lyons, and former champion jockey and tv presenter Mick Fitzgerald, author of Better than Sex.

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