Ryder cup veteran Lee Westwood still loves event

LEE Westwood loves a Ryder Cup party. He’s enjoyed his fair share of them, too, having been on the winning team six times in eight appearances.

Lee Westwood: Mentoring rookies. Picture: Getty

“I can’t remember any of them,” he joked, before picking out a couple that stick in the memory more than others. His debut at Valderrama in 1997, for instance, and record-breaking wins in 2004 and 2006 at Oakland Hills and The K Club respectively.

“Detroit was good; Valderrama was great,” added the Englishman. “At that time, I was 24-years-old and I am sat in a room with Bernhard Langer, Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo – all my heroes I had watched growing up – and they are jumping about like schoolboys because they had won the Ryder Cup.

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“As it was my first experience, you don’t really know how to behave and we had Prince Andrew in the team-room. But it didn’t take me long to get into it.”

By the time he made his third appearance at The Belfry in 2002, Westwood was well and truly into it as Sam Torrance’s team celebrated their victory. “That was a good party, too,” he reflected.

Only time will tell if the party next Sunday night is in the European team room at Gleneagles. If it is, though, Westwood’s tipple won’t be champagne. “I can’t [party] this time because I am on a diet,” said the 41-year-old of a health and fitness regime that has seen him shed 23lbs in preparation for his latest joust with the Americans. “So it will be water for me.”

Seventeen years ago in southern Spain, Westwood made his Ryder Cup debut with Nick Faldo. It was the master partnering the apprentice, but now it’s Westwood who finds himself as a Ryder Cup mentor.

“That’s what I’ve tried to do over the last few, really,” he reflected. I think that’s what the experienced players have to do. You have to try to bleed the rookies in don’t you?

“He [Faldo] just told me to try to enjoy it. Play aggressively, don’t worry about things too much, and he’d be there if I messed up – he didn’t say messed up, but that was what he kind of implied.”

Two years ago, Westwood’s apprentice on the opening day was Nicolas Colsaerts. “The pep talk certainly worked with Nicolas, didn’t it?” he noted of the Belgian shooting the lights out in the fourballs as they beat Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker. “He got straight into it.”

The European team this time includes three rookies – Stephen Gallacher, Jamie Donaldson and Victor Dubuisson. “They are going to be nervous no matter what, but you’ve just got to try to make them feel a bit more comfortable and tell them everybody’s feeling those nerves,” said Westwood.

Having just scraped in this time – it was a close thing between him and Luke Donald for the last of Paul McGinley’s picks – and not getting any younger, there’s a fair chance this could be the former world No 1’s last appearance in the event on this side of the Atlantic.

Will that make the occasion more important to him? “I don’t appreciate it any more, because I’ve always appreciated playing in the Ryder Cup. It’s a privileged experience to go through. And, the more you play in them, the more you take it all in and enjoy it more.

“The first couple of times you play it all goes past you in a blur. It all happens so fast you don’t really recognise everything that’s happening. But, when it gets to six, seven, eight you can slow down and take it all in.

“I’ve got great memories from all of them going back to Valderrama. I hit a great shot into 17 to about six feet playing with Nick against Tiger and Mark O’Meara. That green was surrounded by crowds.

“Teeing off first a couple of times in the singles was a great moment. Darren [Clarke] on the first tee at the K Club. It wasn’t a great moment because of the situation (the death of Clarke’s wife, Heather) but it was a very emotional moment that I’ll always remember.

“Winning by so many at the K Club – I basically played the last two or three holes with both teams and spectators behind me playing Chris DiMarco. Winning by so many in Detroit was one of the best team performances over the whole week that I’ve been involved in.”