- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
It is accepted by everyone on Planet Golf that this will be Lee Westwood’s final Ryder Cup as a player and that he will captain Europe in Italy in 2023. Well, everyone but Lee Westwood, that is.
Granted, the Englishman has put himself forward to be the blue-and-gold emperor in Rome on several occasions, but that was before he set several records and equalled a few others in qualifying for this week’s biennial tussle at Whistling Straits. And that experience has indicated to him that he still could serve his continent as a player when he is 50. The ageless golfer in The Eternal City perhaps?
“Why not?” Westwood said. “People are saying this will be my last hurrah with the clubs in my hand, but I haven’t made up my mind yet. After Wisconsin I’ll have a few months to decide if I will officially throw my hat in the ring for Rome. I’ll speak to those around me, my team, and come up with a plan, but you are a long time retired. I’ve made it into the team this time after I missed out in 2018 and I think I’ve done so despite messing up my schedule - I’ve played far too much and will have a much better structure for next year. So it’s not beyond the realms. Stranger things have happened.”
Maybe they have, but still what Westwood has achieved is unprecedented. In the drama and controversy of last Sunday at Wentworth - as Shane Lowry fell out of the automatic placings and Padraig Harrington opted for his fellow Irishman as a wildcard instead of Justin Rose - the scale of Westwood’s accomplishment was largely overlooked.
He will not be the oldest ever to tee it up in the Ryder Cup; Ray Floyd was 51 in 1993. But “Tempundo Raymondo” was a captain’s pick. At 48, Westwood is the oldest to qualify by right - since it became Europe v US - breaking Fred Funk’s mark from 2004. Furthermore, Westwood will tie Floyd’s record as the player with the most years between his first and most recent matches - 24 - and will join Sir Nick Faldo at the top of Europe’s charts with 11 appearances.
In a showdown where the US will field their youngest ever dozen - averaging under 30 for the first time - Westwood’s evergreen feat is genuinely remarkable. He has played in 44 Ryder Cup games. Collectively, the US have played in 46.
“I’ve been saying for the last few years that longevity is a blessing in golf, so long as you keep yourself in shape and retain your enthusiasm,” Westwood said. “When I partnered Nick in what was my first Ryder Cup at Valderrama [in 1997] and his last, I wouldn’t have thought I’d be emulating him a quarter of a century later. It’s funny, I have a picture he sent me of us in that match and he’s signed it with the inscription ‘thanks for helping me reach the record’. Maybe I should send him one back now with the same message.”
As Westwood says “it has come full circle” and just as Faldo was entrusted with guiding that fresh-faced 24-year-old, so Harrington might decide to ask Westwood to teach the old-dog tricks to this year’s pup of the team. The difference is there were but 16 years between Faldo and Westwood; Viktor Hovland was born only eight days before Westwood was a debutant in the Costa del Sol. “Honestly, my son will have more in common with most of these lads,” Westwood said with a laugh.
Sam, 20, will be there by his father’s side at the links-like layout on Lake Michigan - and not just in case the old boy requires any help with cultural references. As the caddie to Westwood Sr, Westwood Jnr will chalk up what is believed will be yet another Ryder Cup first. “He wasn’t even alive for my first two Ryder Cups and the only one he has ever attended was Gleneagles [in 2014],” Westwood says. “He’s excited, of course, but he will be ok. I’ll tell him what to expect. He’s caddied at the Masters, so he’s sampled the big stage. Although they don’t heckle there. This will be an eye-opener.”
Is this the reason why Helen, Westwood’s wife, is not undertaking the bag-carrying duties she normally fulfills? After all, the boozed-up US support has been known to be vile in their barracking. Westwood would not be drawn, simply saying “she just wants to enjoy the week from partner’s point of view”. “But I intend to enjoy it, too, because sometimes that gets forgotten at the Ryder Cup with all the hype and everything,” he added. “In all my years playing in it, I’ve realised that the Ryder Cup can overwhelm you. It’s pressurised, of course, and you really, really want to get that point for your team. But it’s got to be kept in some sort of perspective.”
Naturally, the “P” word flew straight out of the clubhouse window in 2016 Hazeltine when a few missed short putts from Westwood were held up as one of the primary factors for America’s only victory in the last five matches This was the end of the road for Westwood, so the experts advised us. A Ryder Cup, too far.
“It’s always easy to write off sports people just because of a few instances, but I don’t listen to or read any of that,” he said. “If you look at Ryder Cups they normally come down to moments; that’s the nature of the format. But it’s not about the individuals, it’s about the team - everyone in the European teamroom knows that and I guess that’s what has made us successful. You know, the individual stats are done week-in, week-out and the team’s average rankings are worked out and the bookies always make the US favourite.
“But that does not mean much, if anything, in matchplay, when the team thing is all-important. So we have a lot more experience than they do this year, but they have all those great young players in the world top 10. The way I see it, is that as ever, they have their strengths and weaknesses and so do we. You can go into the fine details of each player, of this and that, but when it comes down to it, it’ll be who holes the most putts at the right time. That’s the Ryder Cup.”