Lee Westwood said he can’t help but be inspired by Jack Nicklaus, and the record of his he could beat this week, ahead of his 20th appearance at The Masters.
The 47-year-old, who comes to Augusta National as the current Race to Dubai champion and with two runner-up finishes to his name in the past few months, could overtake Nicklaus as the oldest winner of The Masters if he were to earn his first Major title this week.
“Even without that, Jack has always been an inspiration the way he played the game, especially his record around here,” Westwood said of Nicklaus, who won his final Masters in 1986 at the age of 46.
“You can't help being inspired. There's a few similarities there with age. It would be great to break his record.”
Westwood was reflective about making his 20th appearance at Augusta this week, and said he still vividly remembers his debut in 1997 – which coincidentally included a final-round pairing with Nicklaus.
“I still remember the first time I played this tournament in 1997. I played the final round with Jack, and I knew I was playing with him on the Sunday.
“And I went out on the Saturday night and bought the picture, the iconic one where he's following the ball into the hole on 17 with his putter. And after we played on the Sunday, I had done enough to qualify for the following year, fortunately. I think we had to finish top 24 at that stage. And I said to Jack, "Would you mind signing this picture for me?" And I still have it to this day all framed up where he's put, "Lee, enjoyed our round, best wishes, Jack Nicklaus. There's very few people you would do that with.”
And now, 24 years later, he has a chance to beat the record Nicklaus set 11 years before Westwood had even stepped foot on Augusta’s grounds.
“He's a legend of the game and arguably the greatest player to ever play the game. His record in the major championships and especially Open Championship and here, you know, is second to none. I always enjoy speaking with Jack and picking his brains and just being in his company, really. To have a chance to break one of his records would be very special”
Further comparisons between the two this week have not been lost on Westwood, who has son Sam caddying for him this week – just as Nicklaus did when he claimed his sixth green jacket.
“It's amazing that I'm old enough to have my son on the bag and still be competing in these tournaments, and having Sam here to enjoy the experience with me, I have to close his mouth every now and again when we're going around here; he loves it so much."
Westwood now arrives at Augusta with an air of confidence following his recent form, something the former World Number One puts down to a culmination of working hard on his game, his fitness, and the mental side of things.
“I think it's the culmination of a lot of different things,” Westwood said of his results over the past year – which include victory at the 2020 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, the Race to Dubai crown and going toe-to-toe with Bryson DeChambeau and Justin Thomas in two separate PGA Tour events.
“I've obviously been working hard at my game, but I have a good team around me, Steve McGregor, we work on the physical fitness side of the game. Ben Davis, I work on the mental side of the game, which I have done for three years now, two, three years, and that's made a big difference. Liam James on the swing. Try not to forget anybody. There's a big team.
“It's not just one thing that makes you play well. Golf's got so many different facets. Phil Kenyon on my putting, as well. I went to the pencil grip about two years now which has made a huge difference. When I get under pressure, I feel more comfortable under pressure. All that and playing well has bred confidence. I maybe don't play as well as often anymore, but when I do play well, I tend to contend, and, you know, with the work I've done on the mental side of the game, I feel a lot more comfortable out there.”
Despite this, Westwood said he isn’t coming into this week with a huge amount of expectations, but he does think a very different course to the one they played in November lends itself to the more experienced part of the field.
“As for expectations, I don't really have any, but I don't really have any at any tournaments I turn up to anymore. I just put the preparation in, hit it off the first tee and try and find it and hit it on the green, and hopefully hit it on the green and have a birdie chance and make a few of those. After that, it's in the lap of the gods, really.
“I’m 48 in a few days' time, and the secret is to tone the practice and the training down as Thursday comes so I'm fresh. My legs probably won't take as much as a 20-year-old's legs will take, and this is a physically demanding golf course. I have to scale that back.”
He added: “I think playing the golf course under tournament circumstances is very valuable, and you learn a lot when you play in previous Masters. That's why I think you get a lot of repeat winners around here, and the likes of Fred Couples and Bernhard Langer, people that played it over the years a lot can contend and can get themselves into position because you learn where not to hit it.
“In November when we played, the golf course is nothing like it normally is. You could actually miss it in spots you were terrified about when you were making your plan, and you could be aggressive to certain flags. It wasn't, as everybody would sort of say, a true Masters.
“This week it's back to how the golf course should play, fast and firm, and this is how it is at its toughest. You'll see, I think, people who have got a lot of experience around here coming to the top of the leaderboard again.”