Helen Storey and Lee Westwood are recalling a sliding doors moment from 2019 that might just have tested the resilience of some relationships, never mind act as a catalyst for the remarkable resurgence for one of England golf’s most cherished careers.
“It was the Saturday of the Dunhill Links at St Andrews and Lee had missed the cut and was clearly disgusted with his putting,” Storey says. “We were due to go to the Gala Dinner that night in the Old Course Hotel, a big, fancy affair that Lee always enjoys. But I said, ‘Let’s not go there and get sozzled and write off tomorrow. Let’s drive down to Southport now and go to Phil Kenyon’s lab and get it sorted.’ ”
Westwood sniggers at the memory. “I’m not sure any of my previous caddies would have got more than a two-word response,” he says. “I enjoy that dinner, loads of interesting sports people to talk to. And to be honest, I fancied a bit of a drink after those three days on the greens. But we went, immediately got into it on Sunday, found a solution by Monday and that was a huge turning point for me.”
On the Lancashire coast in Kenyon’s space-age studio, Westwood’s vital statistics were put through the Wurlitzer. The high-pitched whistling and puffs of smoke indicated to Kenyon – not only putting coach to Westwood but a giddying array of talent including Tommy Fleetwood, Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson – that radical action was required.
“We went to the ‘claw’ pencil grip, I won in Abu Dhabi a few months later and that set me up to win the Race to Dubai [the European Tour’s Order of Merit] in December,” Westwood says. “And here I am going into the Masters feeling confident after some good results. So yeah, it was a good hangover to miss, that one’. Well done, Helen.”
“Thanks, but I’m not sure I lived up to the old caddie expectations that day, saying to my player, ‘Hey, let’s not get drunk’,” Storey replies. “Yeah, that wasn’t very professional of you,” Westwood says.
Time spent in conversation with the due-to-be-married couple soon reveals that here is an engagement with laughter as its bedrock. Both divorcees with children from previous marriages – Sam and Poppy for 47-year-old Westwood, Edie for Storey, 43 – they instantly clicked when introduced in 2015 by Storey’s sister, Andrea, whose husband Graham Wylie owns Close House, the Newcastle golf complex which sponsors the former world No 1.
Initially, Storey, a fitness consultant, would come out on Tour and join the other partners behind the ropes, peering on faithfully. “It can be a little boring,” she says with a tone that suggests Westwood is not the only member of this duo who indulges in a spot of sardonic humour. “But then, I’d watch Lee, see him getting down on himself and wonder if I could help. When you know someone that closely, you know what makes them tick. And when he started with Ben, I’d sit in on the sessions. I still do. He’s been great for Lee.”
“Ben” is Ben Davies, the sports psychologist who Westwood started working with in 2017. “Professor Steve Peters [the celebrated mind guru and author of The Chimp Paradox] put me on to him. At the time, I wasn’t feeling committed to golf, struggling, anxious out on the golf course and that’s the start of a slippery slope, really. Ben turned my thinking around.
“It took nine to 12 months to get the hang of it, to fully buy into it probably. He gives me tools to use on the course when I am feeling a bit nervous. You know, I was always sceptical about psychiatrists, but maybe I should have delved into the mind earlier. Maybe I didn’t need them back then, but I would definitely tell a kid setting out now that a psychologist and a trainer are as important as a coach really.
“I’m well fixed in all three areas, with Steve McGregor back as my trainer and Liam James as my coach. Steve is a mate, understands me and if you look at who he has helped [Manchester City, the New York Knicks, Rory McIlroy] there isn’t anyone better really.
“And Liam, who I met through [fellow Tour pro and academy owner] Robert Rock, has given me clarity with my swing and improved my chipping no end. Pete [Cowen] gave me a bunker lesson in January and that aspect has come on as well. They’ve all been a big part in this rebuild and Ben’s contribution is right up there. He’s given me drills to employ in pressure situations. I’ll talk to myself in a certain way, have conversations with myself. There are methods. I don’t want to reveal exactly what they are. Trade secrets and all that. Helen knows.”
“If I see him starting to overthink it, I just immediately change the subject,” Storey says. “We talk about any old nonsense out there. Anything but golf. And that includes down the stretch. I don’t go quiet, because I’m not nervous. I’m only carrying the bag. Lee’s doing his own yardages, shot selection.
“So why should I be nervous? It doesn’t matter what tournament it is, which round, wherever he is on the leaderboard – to me, it’s just a lovely walk with Lee around a big field. Like I tell him if he’s looking glum, ‘Hey, nobody’s died, there’s no dramatic music playing in the background’.”
If there was ever any concern for Storey in her new role, it was at the 2017 Abu Dhabi Championship. With Westwood’s long-time caddie, Billy Foster, having to make an emergency trip home, the ebullient Geordie was handed the straps of the 40lb-plus Ping bag.
“I didn’t really know what to do, but the other caddies were great, real gentlemen, doing the pin for me, raking the bunkers. I got a bit embarrassed and said, ‘Lads, let me do something, because Lee’s doing all the golf stuff, let me pick up the slack’. I felt comfortable right away. Although I did make us both go to the gym after the first round, which was a mistake. That flaming bag is heavy and I count it as my workout for the day.”
“I thought she said, ‘Let’s go for a gin’,” Westwood says. “That’s what I usually did.”
In truth, Westwood also found himself at ease that week, finishing eighth, and so those self-rejuvenating seeds were sown. Over the next year or so, the conviction grew that Westwood no longer required an expert such as Foster at his side – “and to my mind Billy is the best,” Westwood says – but a confidante in the guise of the Davies “low-key, play-it-down” mindset.
Step forward Storey and step forward Sam. Finally fulfilling a belated birthday promise, Westwood’s 19-year-old son will take the bag this week at Augusta and Storey says she is “thrilled”.
“Friends say it must be a relief not to have to wear one of those caddie boiler suits and Lee always jokes, ‘Ooh, they must seriously chafe’. But it’s OK; I look good in white. What I will not miss is that b----- climb up the eighth. That’s a killer. Sam’s dead excited and it’ll be lovely to see father and son together. I’ll keep an eye on the bag, though, and make sure it’s tidy and all in order. Sam will keep Lee nice and relaxed.”
“It’s great, great bonding,” Westwood says. “I mean, who gets the chance to have their lad alongside in that sort of experience? A lot of the pros have their children caddying in the Par Three competition, but I’ve been around so long my child is all grown up and can do it for real.
“Sam is a decent player, off scratch, so it’s different. Because while Helen and I avoid the ‘golf stuff’, when I’m with Sam I am actually trying to give him a lesson without him realising. I tell him what shots I’m considering, how I’m visualising, why I’m aiming there and not at the pin.
“I am thinking as much about what he is learning as I am about me playing. Probably more so. And that’s a way of putting it all into perspective, in itself.”
The oldest winner of the Masters was Jack Nicklaus as a 46-year-old in 1986. He happened to have his son, Jackie Jnr, on the bag. Now, two weeks before he goes into his 49th year, Lee and Sam will attempt to emulate the Golden Bear and his cub and at last capture that missing major.
“We certainly won’t be building it up like that,” Westwood says. “I’m going there as a member of the world’s top 20, who has finished in the top three of the Masters on a few occasions [second in 2010 and 16, third in 2012] and who came runner-up at last month’s Players Championship and the week before at Bay Hill.
“So, yeah, I am feeling good about myself, about my golf and I do have a game plan that I know can be effective. But so many things come to pass at a tournament, that I’m not going to start thinking, ‘Imagine if this happened… or that happened’. I’ll be trying to win it, sure, but we are essentially going there to enjoy it, even if it is the Masters and it is Augusta.”
“It’s just a lovely big field,” Helen says. “And there is the reality,” Lee responds.