On the day that Lee Westwood, the tournament host of the British Masters, turned down an 11th hour opportunity to compete in the year’s first major, Renato Paratore showed no such reticence in stepping up to claim the second European Tour title of his career.
While Paratore’s victory here at Close House was spectacularly earned as the 23-year-old Italian waltzed clear to win the first event in the Tour’s resumption after a four-month hiatus, the buzz on the range was inevitably drawn to Westwood’s decision to snub the USPGA Championship. And his stark explanation why.
“I’m concerned that America doesn't take coronavirus as seriously as the rest of the world,” the world No 34 said.
Westwood had assumed that because of the US quarantine regulations it would not be possible to travel across the pond for the WGC FedEx St Jude Classic - that begins in Memphis on Thursday - or the USPGA that immediately follows in San Francisco.
The likes of Tommy Fleetwood, Francesco Molinari and Bob MacIntrye did fly over early to fulfil the necessary self-isolation, but with his strong ties to this Newcastle course and this year’s event, Westwood chose responsibility over the chance for personal glory.
However, late on Friday the players received a memo declaring that the White House had lifted the rules for "players, caddies and essential personnel” and that they were now exempt from the fortnight quarantine. Westwood could this book a flight to Memphis on Sunday and take his place among the world’s elite. But the 47-year-old did not see it that way.
“I know they’ve dropped the two week quarantine now but I still don’t feel comfortable - America still seems to be one of the hotspots for outbreaks,” Westwood said. “I can control me not getting the virus and take all the measures I can, but somebody might pass it on. I don't really want to get ill with it - I'm slightly asthmatic. I’m not sure about insurance policies etc and right now there are too many what ifs and if you take all them into consideration, there is clearly something wrong. I don't feel like it is right to jump on a plane for 12 hours.”
Goodness knows what Rory McIlroy will make of it. Last month, the world No 2 questioned the commitment of the Europeans who, for whatever reason, elected to stay at home and not relocate to the PGA Tour when it resumed. “If you really care about your career and care about moving forward, you should be here,” McIlroy.
Westwood will not care one jot about McIlroy’s opinion. At 47, he is in the twilight years and although the former world No 1 has yet to win a major there is not much else to achieve. He plays when and where he wants and after a 79 to finish on eight-over, he was typically honest about the strictly-controlled, behind-closed-doors scenario the Tour has had to implement with with the pros allowed only the designated hotel or at the course.
“I’m 28 years of playing on Tour and this is a shock to the system,” Westwood said. “Whenever I come and play tournaments now, it is also about seeing my mates and the sociable element and you’re not getting that at the moment. I’ve never seen so many players on the range at 8pm trying to avoid their hotel rooms.
“It’s just not the life I’m used to and on the course I am struggling for motivation. You can see someone as an 18- or 19- or 20-year-old coming out to these events and going, ‘brilliant’ - they’re not used to anything else. But I’m too old in the tooth for that now. However, I fo feel like I should play in a few of the ‘UK Swing’ events to support the Tour because they have done such an unbelievable job in getting on these tournaments.”
— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) July 25, 2020
Instead of the USPGA, Westwood has inked in to play at the English Open at Hanbury Manor that same week. The US Open is to be held in late September and it will be intriguing to see if Westwood competes at Winged Foot. Paratore all but earned his place in that New York major, with a 69 for an 18-under total and a three-shot triumph over the brilliant Danish teenager Rasmus Hojgaard (70).
South Africa’s Justin Harding was one further back in third, while the English trio of Dale Whitnell, Robert Rock and Andy Sullivan shared fourth on 13-under.
Paratore, who started with a one-shot lead, made his first bogey of the tournament on the ninth -the 63rd hole - and then another on the 11th but despite these stumbles always seemed in control and made sure of the £187,000 first prize with a birdie on the 17th. “It was a little bit strange with the absence of fans on the finishing stretch, but this feels amazing,” Paratore said.
No crowds, but there was still an emotional scene behind the 18th green when he spoke to his mother, Christina, on a laptop. “Ciao Mamma,” Paratore said. “Che sorpresa!” Except, for all those observers who have long raved about the talent of this refreshingly quick player, this was no surprise at all.