Just another halcyon day on the European tour, perfect for a friendly practice round between mates Lee Westwood and Andrew Coltart. Westwood, 25, you've heard a little bit about. He's the chubby-cheeked, gap-toothed kid who may end England's long search for the next Nick Faldo. Coltart is a 28-year-old Scot who after years of toil has finally been linked with Westwood whenever the future of European golf is discussed. On the 2nd hole this day, Coltart had the misfortune of sticking his approach shot in a cavernous greenside bunker, from which he is visible only from the neck up. Hitting a gorgeous explosion shot to within six inches of the cup, Coltart nods toward Westwood to learn his ball's fate, for he is unable to see for himself. "Eight feet," Westwood says.
Disappointed, Coltart drops another ball in the sand. This one ends up even closer to the hole than the first. "Eight feet," Westwood reports.
Next January, Westwood and Coltart will become brothers-in-law, when Westwood marries Coltart's younger sister, Laurae. Until then they'll just have to keep acting like it.
"My first impression of Lee?" asks Coltart, in a brogue thicker than U.S. Open rough. "A world-class snorer."
"If so, it was only because he put me to sleep with all his talk about the swing," says Westwood in his Midlands lilt. Their fraternity is born of an incestuous past. Both Westwood and Coltart signed with the same management firm, and for years they shared a life on the road, including countless nights bunking in the same hotel room to save money. (They have also shared a swing coach and glossy full-page ads in European golf magazines for a doming manufacturer they represent.) In fact, they were crashing together at the '95 British Open at St. Andrews when Westwood began pitching woo to Coltart's kid sis, who was working as a beautician at the Old Course Hotel. "Andrew's reaction was very enthusiastic," says Laurae. "He said, 'Over my dead body' "
When romance looked inevitable, Coltart took Westwood aside and offered some avuncular advice. "I told Lee that if he wanted to marry my sister, he had better start making more money on the golf course," Coltart says. "Seems to me he took the recommendation rather well."
The photograph is yellowed with age, brittle looking, yet has the faint glow of the historic. There is John King, the head pro at Westwood's hometown Worksop Golf Club, pretending to be giving a lesson to a group of teenagers in a snap for the town paper. All of King's charges are staring at him with rapt attention. All except Westwood, who couldn't help but fix the camera with an impish grin. "He's always loved the spotlight," says King, leaning against a wall in the Worksop clubhouse, adrift in the reverie of the photo.
Few players have found the klieg lights of the world golf stage so dramatically. Westwood was virtually unknown on either side of the Atlantic until he starred in last September's Ryder Cup, but that was merely a tease of what was to come. Since Valderrama, Westwood has been, quite simply, the hottest player in the world. (David Duval loses out on the title because his heroics have come only in the U.S.) Last November, Westwood won three tournaments on three continents, added a second-place finish and earned more than $850,000, rocketing to third on the European tour's season-ending money list. In April he won in the U.S. in only his seventh try, taking the Freeport-McDermott Classic in New Orleans with a bravura performance, and after back-to-back victories in Europe at the end of May, Westwood sat atop the tour's money list for the first time. When the British Open kicks off next week at Royal Birkdale, just an hour and a half from Worksop, Westwood will find himself in a new and terrifying position: carrying the flag for British golf, for a sporting public that places its golfing heroes somewhere between Queen and country.
"It doesn't bother me," Westwood says. "If anything, it gives me a confidence boost." Westwood wears confidence the way other men do cologne, but on this topic there's something reserved in his manner. It's as if he knows better, and with good reason.
"There's a lot of rubbish that comes with being everyone's favorite golfer," says Sandy Lyle, the Scot who was the best player in the world in the late '80s but has battled Icarus metaphors ever since, while his game has gone up in flames. "It's different here than in the States. The people are a little more desperate for their next hero." No one knows the pitfalls like Faldo, England's darling for the last decade, and at the Ryder Cup he warned Westwood's enthusiasts in the press to "leave him alone, he's doing all right."