Much more analytical and less emotional on the golf course. That was the winning formula for Lee Westwood in the victory that has made an 11th Ryder Cup playing appearance a possibility before he inevitably has a stint as Europe’s captain in the biennial event.
There can be no denying that it looked like the end of the road for the Englishman in a playing capacity against the Americans when he seemed to be a spent force in having little to offer in Europe’s 2016 defeat at Hazeltine.
He had no complaints as he then missed out on the 2018 team in Paris, where he seemed content to be one of Thomas Bjorn’s vice-captains as part of a grooming process for that captaincy, the 2022 match in Rome having seemed a strong possibility.
His weekend win in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, though, was so impressive that it can be no surprise to hear Westwood himself and others agreeing that the 46-year-old might have one more Ryder Cup left in the tank in the heat of battle as opposed to riding around in a buggy.
There’s a long way to go in the battle for spots on Padraig Harrington’s team for the clash at Whistling Straits in September, but what a springboard Westwood has given himself after claiming a second Rolex Series success on Sunday. He has now secured spots in all four of the majors this year, all of the World Golf Championships and, on this sort of form, he could well go on to provide some of the experience Harrington will be looking for as Europe bid to stage a successful defence of the trophy on the shores of Lake Michigan.
“In ’98, I think I won eight tournaments in one year, 2000 I won eight tournaments and ’99 I won seven or something stupid like that,” recalled Westwood as he savoured his 25th European Tour title with a success by which he became only the third player after Mark McNulty and Des Smyth to win on the circuit across four decades.
“They were coming along like taxis, and I didn’t appreciate it enough. 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.
“Ben Davis (his 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. If things are going wrong, I don’t really lose my temper any more. 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.
“Ben has tried to impart that on me, and I think that’s just spreading through my whole game. I’m on a very even keel. 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, and it’s served me well. That’s kind of the way I’m trying to play it now.”
Westwood, who is set to host the Betfred British Masters at Close House near Newcastle in August, is now being coached by fellow European Tour player Robert Rock, who also won in Abu Dhabi in 2012. “He sent me a text on Saturday night and said, ‘Don’t tell me that I’ve actually won something that you’ve never won’,” revealed Westwood. “And I said in reply, “Give me a day!”