(Photo – Fran Caffrey/ Golffile)
Lee Westwood, who turns 47 in April, was both emotional and excited at the various avenues that have opened as he meet the media after the win at Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, 2020.
Winning in four decades, getting to a landmark 25 European Tour titles, getting into World’s Top-50 (actually 29thafter the win), getting into Majors and WGC and the possibility of a Ryder Cup place at Whistling Straits were among the things he discussed.
Above all, he said he had promised to stay off alcohol till after Saudi International, but it now remained to be seen whether he could resist it on Sunday night.
On how he felt during the week and winning in four decades:
Very good. I felt pretty comfortable all week, and not sort of wanting to say how good I felt, I’ve been swinging, but more trying to keep a lid on how good I felt I’ve been putting.
I don’t know why it is, I put in a lot of hard work with Phil Kenyon and I’ve been working with Ben Davis on the psychological part of it, but I really felt quite calm on the greens this week and rolled a lot of good putts. That was the key to winning, really. You’ve got to putt well to win any tournament, but especially these in the desert because the greens are so immaculate, you know that everybody is going to hole their putts.
It was great, and like you say, four different decades. Feel really old when somebody says that, don’t you. Luckily most of you have been here throughout, so I know you’ve all aged, as well. Looking at hair, for starters.
About the ambition of making the Ryder Cup team and the schedules:
It’s not only an ambition, it’s only come to the forefront of my mind, that now I’ve got a chance to make The Ryder Cup Team. I thought I was done in The Ryder Cup to be honest as a player. I’ve played ten, and I really enjoyed watching everybody else suffer in the last one.
You know, now I give myself a chance to play, so yeah, I’ll just play week-in, week-out, just to see. I’m not going to increase my schedule or anything like that. I’m just going to play week-in, week-out and see where that takes me. But I’ll be playing in all the big tournaments again. The World Golf Championships are all on the calendar now and obviously every major, so who knows.
On winning in four decades and the pride it gives him:
I can’t see it being five (laughter) but you never know, do you.
It gives me a lot of pride to set new sort of targets for everybody. That’s what sport’s about, isn’t it. I’m surprised I’m the first one to do it. (Later he was informed that Des Smyth and Mark McNulty had done it, too)
But you know, I’ve been out here a long time, this is my 28th season. So yeah, I’d like to add a few more to that. But I think it just shows the level I’ve played at for such a long time, longevity in sport is difficult to achieve.
And obviously I kept myself supremely fit a finally tuned athlete over all those years and paying off now. I feel as healthy now as I ever have playing golf. Don’t groan too much when I get out of bed in the morning to put my socks on; you know what that’s like.
I’ve got like a new commitment to the gym. I was in there this morning and I did 40 minutes’ cardio, trying to get a bit of weight off, just so my body functions a bit better in the golf swing.
If I’ve got that kind of drive, then I feel like I can continue to move on like this.
In one sentence, what does it take to win in four decades?
Yeah, you’ve got to be dedicated and you’ve got to love it and you’ve got to love practicing. Because there’s no shortcuts. It’s just hard work. You know, when you think about leaving the range in one afternoon, going and sitting by the pool or having a beer or something like that (shaking head) stay on the range another hour.
A few years back, there was Tiger, myself and Vijay were the last three on the range, and it wasn’t a coincidence that the best players are the hardest workers.
On playing the game he loves and the competitive drive he still has?
Yeah, Ben (Davis, the psychologist) has instilled in me the fact that I’m playing the game I love for a living, and I should enjoy it, and sometimes it gets to the point where you don’t enjoy it enough.
You know, we’re lucky to be doing what we’re doing, and a lot of people are far less fortunate. I’ve tried to go out, if things are going wrong, I don’t really lose my temper anymore. I’ve never been a club breaker, but I don’t really get wound up too much. I’ve become much more analytical and less emotional on the golf course.
He’s tried to impart that on me, and I think that’s just spreading through my whole game and my putting everything, and I’m on a very even keel; and if the ball doesn’t go in, the ball doesn’t go in. The only thing I can control are the movement and the actions I’m doing to roll it on line to the hole. It might hit something or I might misread it, but I brush it off and move on to the next, and it’s served me well.
On being a softy, because of the tears he showed after winning?
I’ve always known I’ve been a big softy.
Did he think the days of winning were something like gone? Even the Sun City win (Nedbank Challenge in Nov 2018) came after a while?
I certainly wasn’t playing well enough and hitting the ball well enough and putting well enough to win golf tournaments.
Yeah, ’98, ’99, 2000, ’98 I think I won eight tournaments in one year, and 2000 I won eight tournaments and year and ’99 I won seven or something stupid like that, and they were coming along like taxis, and I didn’t appreciate it enough, I don’t think, and now I appreciate it and I appreciate all the hard work that has to go into it.
I was working hard back then, but winning was coming easy, and I think that’s just because I was a young man and I was rolling with the momentum of it all.
On rising to 29thin the World Rankings and the assurance of being in Majors and WGCs?
Well, you can make a plan, can’t you? You can schedule a little bit better. I was going to play this week, Dubai and Saudi and then I wasn’t sure when I was going to play again. I know I’m going to play at the Honda in Palm Beach Gardens, but I didn’t know whether I would be going into México the week before and I didn’t know whether I would be in the Match Play.
So I probably — well, I’ll definitely go to México and I’ll play the Honda, and then I might try to get a tournament in between then and the Match Play. I’m playing the week before the Masters in Texas; they have been good enough to give me an invite, and then obviously the Masters.
But I won’t play a massive amount more. I’ll still probably only play 24, 25 times a year. That’s just the way I feel like I’ve got to play now to turn up to a tournament and be in the best possible shape to compete.
I think gone are my days of playing 30, 30 events a year. I am 47 in April and body and mind just won’t take that quite as well.
On how he was going to celebrate the landmark win?
I didn’t take my clubs to Thailand. I had no intention of playing golf there. I was just there to relax and a lot of sleeping, and I did have a couple of glasses of rosé and a couple of beers.
After Thailand, I decided to do Dry January, which right now seems a massive mistake (laughter) and I’ll do really well to get through tonight without a drink. Everybody’s offering me one, but I’ve held out so far. Normally you’d see me with a glass of champagne or Corona in hand, but I’ve managed not to have a drink so far.
I’ll give you an update tomorrow whether I’m still committed to the cause. But I would like to. I would like to get right through the next two weeks and then we’ll see. I’m trying to lose a bit of weight, so I can’t really drink.
On his excellent driving this week?
I’ll tell you a little story — my driving was very good this week, but it’s down to the work I’ve done with Robert Rock.
He sent me a text last night and he said, “Don’t tell me that I’ve actually won something that you’ve never won.”
And I said, “Give me a day.” So I can’t wait to text him (laughter). So now he’s not won something I haven’t won. I’ve got my name on there, as well.
But yeah, obviously the key to playing good golf is getting in the fairways, especially on a golf course like this. You know, work the ball right-to-left and left-to-right whenever I wanted to and I hit a lot of fairways. I think I hit the most out of everybody before the final round. Golf courses like this play easier if you can play from the fairway.
On the Dubai Desert Classic being the only tournament in the UAE that he has not won?
I’m just looking forward to Dubai Desert Classic, anyway, because I think it’s one of the best tournaments on The European Tour calendar.
I love playing the Emirates Golf Club. Hence, I played well in the past. I finished second a couple of times. A bit unlucky to lose to Miguel in a playoff a few years back.
So I’m looking forward to going back there with some form and you’ll see me on the range tomorrow afternoon working on my swing and preparing properly for Thursday to try and hit that first shot down the fairway and go on from there. Carry the form in from this week.
On what will he say when some young guys come and congratulate him next week?
I’ll have no idea… I’ll have no idea who most of them are. I suddenly realized a few months ago why everyone has their name on their golf bags; it’s for people on me; you walk along there, who is that lad on the range hitting it 330 yards.
I’m always open to people coming and asking questions, yeah.
On the Ryder Cup chance in Wisconsin? After his Ryder Cup career seemed to end on the jarring note in Hazeltine last time?
Yeah, I didn’t really feel that jarred by Hazeltine. You know, I’ve been on losing Ryder Cup teams, and I’ve been on seven winning ones. It’s a big honour to represent Europe in The Ryder Cup.
I was joking when I said, you know, I would love to play another Ryder Cup as long as I’m good enough. I wouldn’t want a pick, but if I qualified, I would definitely play.
So you know, I’ll be trying my hardest, there’s no doubt about that, but you can’t control qualifying for a Ryder Cup Team. You can only control what you do that particular week, and obviously like this week, you win lots of points and it moves you up the list. I’ll just be trying to do the small things right and it will lead on to the big things, like qualifying for The Ryder Cup Team and other things like that.