THOUSAND OAKS, California (Reuters) - Lee Westwood, reunited with his longtime caddie and happy to put in long hours with his swing coach, plans to improve every aspect of his game for next year as he hunts a first major title.
Former world number one Westwood has piled up 16 top-10 finishes in golf’s blue riband events, including eight top-threes, and would dearly love to fill that ‘major’ gap in his otherwise glittering resume.
“Winning a major is probably the pinnacle of everybody’s career,” the 40-year-old Englishman told Reuters while preparing for Thursday’s opening round of the Tiger Woods-hosted Northwestern Mutual World Challenge.
”My focus heading into next year will be to just work on everything really, just try and improve every aspect of my game. That’s what you’ve got to plan on doing, keep doing.
“My swing hasn’t been in sync all of this year, really and I’ve sort of been fumbling my way around the golf course. It’s something I‘m going to work on over the winter,” said the Briton, long renowned for the quality of his ball-striking.
Westwood, a 22-time winner on the European Tour, has not triumphed anywhere since he clinched the 2012 Nordea Masters but is banking on his relationship with swing coach Sean Foley to help end that victory drought sooner rather than later.
The pair linked up in June, Westwood having been hugely impressed with Foley’s thoughts on golf while they chatted during the PGA Tour’s Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio.
“It feels pretty comfortable working with him,” Westwood said after spending a couple of hours at sun-splashed Sherwood Country Club working on his short game with Foley.
”When you look at what Sean has achieved with Tiger and Justin (Rose), you’ve got to say he is in the top drawer as a coach. He obviously knows his stuff.
“After so long without a coach I felt I was getting a little bit out of synch,” added Westwood, who split with his previous coach Pete Cowen in August 2012. “The idea of linking up with Sean was to get back to swinging the way I used to.”
Asked if fellow Englishman and U.S. Open champion Rose had influenced him in his move to Foley, Westwood replied: ”No, I just wanted to work with Sean.
“Every time I had heard him talk about the swing and also when I spoke to him, I liked what he said, so ... if you like the way a coach teaches, that’s a massive part of the battle.”
Westwood is also delighted to have his longtime caddie Billy Foster back on his bag, the pair having split up 18 months ago after Foster suffered a knee injury while playing in a charity soccer match.
“We are very good friends so we are obviously going to have a close connection,” Westwood said of the special chemistry and sense of humor he has long shared with Foster.
Though Zimbabwean Mike Kerr gelled well with Westwood after taking over as the Englishman’s caddie in August 2012, Westwood always had a feeling he would eventually reunite with Foster.
“I was just waiting for him (Foster) to get fit really,” said Westwood. “Obviously I had employed another caddie (Kerr) so it was only fair to him to give him a run. But it’s nice to have Billy back on the bag.”
Westwood, whose short game has been an occasional Achilles’ heel, recorded six top-10s in 19 starts on the 2013 PGA Tour, his best finish a tie for third at the British Open, but was not overly happy with his campaign.
”I don’t really grade my years but if I was to it would be about a ‘C’ this year,“ he smiled. ”Obviously there is a big strength in depth in the game but I feel like I have let a couple of tournaments go.
”I had a chance at the (British) Open Championship and a good chance in the (European Tour‘s) PGA Championship at Wentworth.
“I’ve played okay for most parts of the year but I’ve just not quite done enough, not had a great last day when I’ve needed it.”
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Frank Pingue