Lee Westwood has a bundle of titles, awards and tributes to his name across 26 years in professional golf; he’s even pocketed an OBE. The Worksop, UK-born golfer made the sport his full-time profession in 1993 and has won 43 tournaments in his career, even if the four major events have eluded him.
The Masters, US and British Opens and the PGA Championship have seen Westwood finish runner-up three times – including twice at the Augusta National course – and a further six times in third place.
It is a record that has seen the 46-year-old named as one of the world’s best golfers, and probably one of the unluckiest. However, in October 2010, he did reach the zenith of the world golf rankings in knocking the mighty Tiger Woods off his perch.
That saw Westwood become the first British male golfer since Nick Faldo, in 1994, to conquer the golfing summit. As it stands then, he and fellow Englishman Luke Donald are the only two golfers who have claimed the top spot without the aid of winning a major tournament.
‘Westy’ has also been on the winning side seven times in 10 Ryder Cup appearances since making his debut in the event in 1997, where he partnered the aforementioned Faldo in both the foursomes and fourballs on the way to a 14.5–13.5 victory over their American counterparts.
And in 2018, Westwood was one of five vice-captains for Team Europe captain Thomas Bjorn as they crushed USA 17-10…
RSNG To win 43 tournaments is no mean feat – do you still believe you will get over the line in one of the big four? LEE WESTWOOD, PRO GOLFER ‘Oh of course – you always go into each tournament thinking you can play the perfect few rounds and take the trophy. If you didn’t feel that was possible I don’t think you’d bother turning up.’
‘I do accept the fact age might be against me slightly now, but I’m pretty sure I’m still younger than the oldest golfer to win a Major [that was Julius Boros at the 1968 PGA, at the age of 48], and even when I pass that age, I am still confident I have it in me.’
‘While the deterioration in physique and competitiveness can be quite noticeable in other sports, golf obviously bucks that trend a fair bit, and all you need is the right tournament at the right time to get you back on track.’
RSNG What will it take to get you over the line? LW ‘It will take me the same as it takes everyone else – it’s the perfect storm really, but I think you can only maintain a good round and turn that into a good tournament if the momentum is there, and if the belief is there.’
‘Those are two elements that fuel each other, and they make even the most difficult shots appear quite easy. I think the players who can perform consistently at tournament-winning level really have a resilience to everything else that goes on around the circuit, because in reality the difference between the top-rankers and the lower-rankers is actually very little.’
‘Ultimately, it’s about staying in that mindset long enough to stay competitive. That’s the challenge and that’s where a lot fall by the wayside.’
RSNG What’s your biggest distraction? LW ‘Thomas Bjorn [laughs].’
‘The truth is every tournament becomes that little bit more difficult the older you get, and they do become more important and bigger if you do manage to win one.’
RSNG Your girlfriend Helen is now your caddy. How did that come about? LW ‘Well, Helen began caddying for me at the Made in Denmark tournament and I was only beaten in a playoff in that event, so that was a good start of the partnership on-course. But up to that point – at least for a couple of years – I had been going into my shots and addressing my ball with quite a few things going through my mind.’
‘However, golf isn’t something which Helen knows a lot about, so when we are walking around the course, I am able to keep the pressure off myself and not be weighed down by golf.’
‘Helen is amazing to carry that bag about, regardless of the weather and, let me tell you, some of the heat… such as we have when we go to play in South Africa. Then, when you think about carrying it around for 72 holes – that’s about 12 hours over four days, that is something I don’t think I could do!’
If you let Augusta entice you into just admiring the scenery then you’re in for a long and painful day!
RSNG You’re battling to get back in contention for the Masters, right? What makes it so special? LW ‘I need to get back into the top 50 and that’s a good thing to aim for. I’d love to play it again because the tradition and history make it so exceptional and distinctive. Did you know, it’s the only tournament where the event is played at the same venue each year – something which will probably always be the case, unless other circumstances arise?’
‘That gives the players the opportunity to know the course when they return and you can almost always use your own route and gameplan when you go there to negotiate the obstacles put in your way. But that still doesn’t make it easy, let me tell you!’
RSNG Yes. The Augusta course is not what it seems like on the television, is it? LW ‘No and you only really can appreciate its difficulties, it’s undulations and those lightning-fast greens when you see them and experience them in person. The course is beautiful and immaculate, but it’s a very long and tough beast to tame.’
‘It’s almost like a wolf in sheep’s clothing because it looks great, gorgeous and inviting, and it almost lulls you into a false sense of security because of the beauty and the amazing colour in the surroundings. But if you let the course entice you into just admiring the scenery and everything around it, you’re in for a long and painful day!’
‘I used to watch it on television myself when I was young and they never used to have the front nine broadcast on the TV. So, when I first went there in 1997, I didn’t know what to expect. No matter how much someone explains to you what the hill is like on the final hole, you don’t fully appreciate it until you’re faced with it.’
RSNG How much has your game changed over the years? LW ‘I’ll be totally honest; I don’t think it’s changed much at all. The one thing that I try to do more of is improve my mental approach to golf, because on the physical side, I don’t really practise too much anymore.’
‘The only physical preparation I do is by going to the gym and making sure my strength and body shape is there; that and injury prevention.’
‘The amount of time I have been playing the game, I don’t think there is much to do to be able to improve my swing or anything like that – and that’s not in an arrogant or egotistical way. More the fact that I am realistic, I am in my mid-40s and obviously I’m not getting any younger, so I just have to rely on what I have.’
RSNG How are you adjusting your mental game? LW ‘When I talk about the mental side of things, what I mean is that I will choose a shot to play once I have analysed where my lie is in relation to the pin.’
‘I have to trust myself that it is the right shot that I am going to take on and then commit fully to that shot and remain totally focused and calm to make sure I play it the best I can.’
‘When you have your practice round on a course, it allows you to see where and when to lay up, when to go for it and what areas on each hole you will be comfortable on doing either on.’
‘You need to have a gameplan, work out what that is going to be and stick to that. So mentally that means making sure I keep things nice and simple, and never changing my mind once I step up to the ball.’
Whistling Straits is a good venue for the Ryder Cup and its environment will give our lads a good chance’
RSNG? What was it like being on the other side of the ropes at the Ryder Cup as one of Thomas Bjorn’s vice-captains? LW ‘In the leadup you don’t really have too much going on, but the day before is when you get to know who’s going to be paired together and that prepares you for the information you will be relaying to the captain, while he is busy with everything else.’
‘Thomas was giving interviews to the media, speaking to the players who aren’t involved and doing a whole host of things. So, you’re pretty much his eyes and ears and letting him know what is happening around the course in the places he can’t be.’
‘I found it fascinating and it taught me a lot. The good thing is with a team event is that everyone’s opinions are taken on board – especially with Thomas – and it worked out well, as we were lucky enough to win.’
RSNG Padraig Harrington will be the Team Europe captain for 2020 and that is being held at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin. What are your thoughts about that as a course? LW ‘Whistling Straits is a good venue for an event such as the Ryder Cup and I think that works well, I’m looking forward to it, for one. Another thing about it is that it’s pretty much a links course – not too dissimilar to the types of courses we have for The Open Championships.’
‘There’s not much that the American team can really do about setting it up to favour themselves in any way, because if you play your tee shot well, you’re normally in the fairway. But if you veer off to either side, you’re in the bunker and hills or the knee-length rough on the opposite side.’
‘They won’t be able to make the greens any faster, because – and I think that the name of the course gives it away slightly – but it can be quite windy on-course. I think the course and its environment will give our lads a good chance of retaining the trophy that we won last year.’
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Then, watch Lee Westwood shooting a final-round 64 to win the 2018 Nedbank Golf Challenge.