Yet there's a growing sense that Westwood is the first in a long line of would-be successors to Faldo's throne. There is no question he has the game. His combination of power and precision—he's deadly, accurate with long irons and has superb touch around the greens—has drawn raves, but it is an apparent immunity to pressure that may be his greatest strength. In his short career Westwood is 3-0 in playoffs, including a victory over Greg Norman on the Shark's home turf in last November's Australian Open. In the match that served as Westwood's coming-out party, a second-day four-ball match at the Ryder Cup, his play was so unrelenting that Tiger Woods, trying to keep pace, famously putted into the pond at Valderrama's 17th hole and was forced to concede defeat.
More impressively, Westwood has shown the same kind of unflappability in dealing with the mushrooming hype and hysteria. He still doffs his cap before shaking hands with his playing partners, a nice touch of Old World manners that is eclipsed only by his compulsion to include a Mister when addressing his elders in the game. (During Westwood's victory in last year's Taiheiyo Masters in Japan, Mr. Watson finally had to ask to be called Tom.) Westwood recently traded in his first indulgence, a Porsche, for a more stately Mercedes sedan. "Not quite as flashy, which I don't mind," he says. He and his fiancée live in a modest redbrick house on a quiet cul-de-sac not five minutes from his parents' home in Worksop, a mill town in Nottinghamshire in the shadow of Sherwood Forest, which Westwood used to run through as a boy. Not that Westwood can tell you much about the legend of Robin Hood or any other topic that doesn't fit between the front and back pages of the sports section. "If it wasn't sports, Lee couldn't have cared less, and I'm afraid not much has changed," says Lee's mum, Trish.
Despite his rotund figure, Westwood was a standout on many of Worksop's playing fields—a leftwinger in football ("He could kick with both feet," says his proud father, John), a cricket bowler, a shot-putter and, most surprising, a long jumper, a high jumper and a sprinter. Like Faldo, Westwood is an only child who might have pursued competitive swimming had Jack Nicklaus not caught his fancy. A 1971 telecast of Nicklaus contending in the Masters had sent young Nick on his way, and a decade and a half later 12-year-old Lee stayed up past his bedtime to watch Nicklaus's inspiring win in the '86 Masters. Shortly thereafter Westwood swung a golf club in earnest for the first time, birdieing a hole in his first round, and he was soon haunting the Worksop course as a junior member. By 16 he had left school to play the British amateur circuit.
That Westwood received rousing support from his parents in his career choice is a bit surprising, considering that Trish is a college-trained podiatrist and John a high school math teacher whose recent retirement was no doubt accelerated by the four wearying years he spent trying to instruct Lee. ("He played no favorites," says Lee. "That was unfortunate for me.") But to understand John's enthusiasm for his son's golf career, all you have to do is watch him walk among Lee's gallery. Shortly before his seventh birthday, John was stricken with polio, and its legacy is still evident in a pronounced limp. "When I was a boy, I dreamed of being a sportsman, but the opportunity was taken from me," he says. Lee's future in sports was probably sealed the day it became evident that his physical gifts matched his dad's enthusiasm. Happily, John never pushed too hard, and Lee's affection is evident in the way he still brags about the first time he beat his dad in arm wrestling, when he was 17.
If Lee got his desire from his father, Trish gets the credit for her son's enlarged perspective. Every Christmas morning she insisted that the family visit a hospital for the mentally ill, where Lee would sometimes deliver presents and good cheer in full Santa regalia. She also tolerated no sports unless Lee met all his school requirements. As a result of these influences, Westwood has an attitude that Colin Montgomerie has pronounced "fabulous," and it doesn't end when he takes off his spikes.
Westwood's sunny disposition certainly was a shock to Laurae Coltart. "I never knew golfers were allowed to smile until I met Lee," she says with typical sarcasm. "He's so laid-back he's completely horizontal." Laurae grew up at her brother's golf tournaments, watching him melt down with every bogey, and in part because of all the dramatics she began sit-ins in the family car, protesting her status as a golf orphan. When her mom blithely suggested that she could temper her feelings by marrying a golfer, Laurae made a pact never to do so. Instead she pursued an education in massage, aromatherapy, reflexology and various other disciplines of holistic medicine. For a while she had her own beauty salon in her hometown of Thornhill, Scotland. Fringe Benefits, it was called, but those proved few and far between, mostly because the boss was away so much trying to keep up with Westwood as the romance progressed after the '95 British Open.
What had Lee done to capture Laurae's fancy during that fateful week? "All I remember is we kept telling each other the most disgustingly dirty jokes," Laurae says. They became engaged on New Year's Eve in 1995 and were due to be married in April '97. That is, until Westwood was invited to play in a little tournament in Georgia for the first time. Laurae agreed to accompany Lee to the Masters and bump the wedding until next January, thus consigning her sweetheart to a lifetime of taking out the trash without complaint.
Laurae has been instrumental in Lee's newfound commitment to fitness, which became a priority at the Masters this year when Gary Player likened Westwood and his 17-stone (238-pound) buddy Darren Clarke to the Teletubbies. Laurae has taken much of the fun out of her fiancé's diet and coaxed him into regular cardiovascular and flexibility work, including frequent treks through the woods on mountain bikes. "It's all good fun," Westwood says, rolling his eyes to let you know it's anything but. As for Laurae's other passion, horseback riding, Lee doesn't ride but recently did buy a stake in an Irish racing syndicate. Give the guy points for trying.
"She'll be great for him in the long run," says Andrew Coltart, who's four years older than his sister. "She has already had an education on life out here. My parents pretty much gave up their world to help my golf. Despite what she may have told you, Laurae never complained when everything revolved around me. She never asked how come she didn't get more attention. It definitely would have affected my career if she had."
Coltart couldn't be happier about the impending union, despite the initial unease that was equal parts brotherly overprotectiveness and discomfort with what he calls "the expected lewd comments" from the rest of the boys on tour. Says Laurae, "Andrew and Lee never fell out of friendship, but there was a little adjustment period. Now everything is as natural as can be."