Lee Westwood Proves There is No Substitute for Experience
IN A sport dominated by ripped young men, it is impossible to minimise the achievement of Lee Westwood in winning the 2020 Race to Dubai. He is 47 years old, slightly overweight and has his fiancee carrying his clubs. He should be looking forward to the Champions Tour. Instead he finds himself ranked 36th in the world, his place in all four majors secured and he is a contender for Europe’s Ryder Cup team.
He has been playing on the European Tour for a staggering 26 years and this is the third time that he has won the Harry Vardon Trophy. But at the end of this extraordinary year, this is the one that will surely mean the most. He has won 25 times on the European Tour and 44 times worldwide.
His longevity and continued excellence in a sport that grows ever more youthful is astonishing. The average age of a top 50 player is just under 33.
His first Harry Vardon Trophy came 20 years ago at Valderrama in Spain. Since 2009 the European Tour's seasons have ended in the Middle East and Westwood romped through the inaugural Dubai finale for his second order of merit success.
Within a year of that triumph the Nottinghamshire star, who took up the game aged 13 with a half set of clubs, had risen to the top of the world rankings. The only thing missing from his CV is a major. Making it to number one in the world is his crowning glory but this latest accolade is right up there in his list of career achievements. And who would bet against him still being able to find a way to win that elusive major? He has come close many times, with 19 top-10 finishes. He has twice finished runner-up at The Masters and once at The Open.
The DP World Tour Championship was Westwood's 567th start on the European Tour. He began the week in the treatment trailer, complaining of a sore back that meant he hardly played in the build up and saying that had it not been such a prestigious event he would not have turned up.
"I had no expectations," Westwood said. "I had hit balls for about 45 minutes, maximum, at any one period of time for the previous two and a half weeks."
He was grateful to the tour's physio staff who got him into shape to compete. Then, with a new driver in his hand, he was hitting his tee shots 15 years further than he had ever done before. At the age of 47. With a bad back!
And it was also noticeable that he is really enjoying his golf. A smile was never far from his face, and it is clear that having his fiancee Helen Storey as caddie is hugely beneficial.
"She gives me a reality slap every now and again,” Westwood said. "And that's the kind of thing I need, and not to get carried away and blow it out of proportion. We obviously get along very well, and it's a nice environment to play golf in."
Westwood won in Abu Dhabi early in the year before hosting the British Masters at Close House as the sport emerged from coronavirus lockdown.
He found playing without crowds in a Covid-secure bubble unnerving but recognised it was a vital period for his home tour. "It didn't look good for a period of time there but we played every week pretty much," Westwood said. "That's a phenomenal achievement. We still have to come to tournaments and go through all the protocols and wear masks in certain places, and we're not allowed to be with people who we want to be with; we're all in these bubbles.
"So to take all those different kind of things into consideration, to actually play tournaments and play a full tour this year has been an incredible job by everybody at the Tour."
It should be pointed out that this has been a season like no other and the Race to Dubai was skewed by the vast sums at stake in the final event compared with most of the year.
Since winning in January, Westwood's best result on the European Tour was a share of 10th at Valderrama in September, until he finished runner-up to fellow Englishman Matt Fitzpatrick in Dubai.
Most money list winners have multiple titles to their name and it is premature to assume Westwood is a certainty for Padraig Harrington's team to defend the Ryder Cup next year. But he would be an asset to Europe at Whistling Straits in September. If Westwood does make the team it would be for a record-equalling 11th appearance.
His approach to birdie the 16th last Sunday was brilliant, his par save at the next took courage as did his up and down from a greenside bunker to pick up a shot at the last.
It was glorious golf, having hit a succession of stunning iron shots throughout the final round.
In terms of the Ryder Cup, he is too experienced to take anything for granted. "If I qualify for the team then I'm clearly good enough," he said. "I'm not going to say it's one of my goals for next year because you should never make Ryder Cup one of your goals. You should break it down to try and play well each tournament. But I could see it happening."
In the meantime Westwood will continue to focus on competing. "The motivation's never changed," he said. "I get to get up each day and do the job I love. I've always wanted to be a golfer, and I don't want it to end."
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