In As You Like It, William Shakespeare wrote of the seven ages of man and how “one man in his time plays many parts.” Lee Westwood is not so much one man in his time who is playing many parts as one man in his time who is playing one part very successfully. That part is that of a professional golfer. Oh, he is also a father of two, engaged to Helen, his caddie, and a multimillionaire but for now what we are concerned with is his remarkable longevity as a professional golfer.
Consider this: He began his professional career in the last century. During it he has been world No. 1 (one of only 24 men to have topped the ranking), and world No. 266. Yesterday, in the Middle East, four months short of his 48th birthday, he won the European Tour’s Race to Dubai, the season-long event that is the gold standard for consistency by members of that tour, overtaking Patrick Reed, the overnight leader.
It was Westwood’s third time doing this – counting his Order of Merit win in 2000 and his Dubai triumph in 2009 – and rather helpfully he has analysed where he was in his career for each one.
“I guess in 2000, I was winning a lot, but I was still, like, up-and-coming,” he said. “It was only my seventh year on tour. In 2009 I was homing in on the best-player-in-the-world spot, and I needed to win here to win the Race to Dubai, and I managed to do that. And then this one, I’m kind of the more mature player on the European Tour now. It wasn’t something I set out to do at the start of the year, but it demonstrates the consistency I’ve shown.”
Thus ended a year that had begun in January in Abu Dhabi, just a few miles down the road in UAE from Dubai, with victory against a field that included five of the world’s top 20 golfers, some of whom were 10 or more years younger and a few who were half his age. First in his first event in 2020, second in his last. Not a bad pair of bookends.
Westwood has won tournaments in the 20th century and the 21st. He has won in four decades. He won nine tournaments on the European Tour before a new millennium and 16 since. It may be a bit harsh to describe him as the European Tour’s greybeard but it is certainly true to say he is not as fresh-faced as, say Matthew Fitzpatrick, Sunday’s DP World tournament winner, who is 26, or Viktor Hovland, who is 23.
How has he done it? How has he managed to play in 10 Ryder Cups and be on the winning side of seven of them and on current form be good enough to play in an 11th in nine months’ time? And if he doesn’t play, then he surely will be at Whistling Straits as a Europe vice-captain.
“I’d love to play again, (in a Ryder Cup). It beats watching,” Westwood said. “Yeah, if I qualify for the team then I’m clearly good enough, and you know, that’s the way I’m going to play it. I can still turn up to the biggest tournaments and compete as I proved at the start of the year in Abu Dhabi, at the U.S. Open – where I bogeyed the last two holes, and if I hadn’t, I’d have finished fifth – and now here.
“So 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.”
Westwood never seems to have tired of saying goodbye to his family, travelling to Heathrow or Manchester airport and getting on a plane to a country 5,000 miles away, returning only three or four weeks later. Men half his age have become disenchanted with this debilitating procedure week in and week out but somehow he hasn’t.
“The motivation’s never changed, really,” 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.
“So I’m prepared to keep working hard and putting myself in the line of fire to try and get into contention in tournaments. It’s where I’m most comfortable and what I love doing. I love the work away from the course and the gym and on the range, the hard work that people don’t see, I love that. I don’t need to motivate myself very often.”
There always has been a maturity about Westwood no matter his age. He has a calmness, too. He knows his own mind and his own body. His body may not be that of a weightlifter – why would it be – but his mind is stronger than titanium. He has seen it all before so little surprises him. Perhaps the only thing that gets him really visibly excited is seeing a horse he owns win a big race.
The most satisfying thing is doing it under pressure when it matters. You know, coming out this week knowing nothing but a win or second will do, and pulling it off, really."
When you drive as far and as straight as Westwood does and when you hit your irons crisply and accurately and putt well then it matters less if your chipping is not as good as the rest of your game. And for some years it wasn’t but all his experience and hours of practice have resulted in a short game that is tidy if not in the same class as Patrick Reed’s. His short game might be why, despite all his good performances in major championships, he has never won one. He has had two seconds, a third, a sixth, seventh and eighth in the Masters alone and, in all, 14 top-10 finishes in major championships.
Not that he minded on Sunday as he basked in the rivers of praise flowing his way.
“The most satisfying thing is doing it under pressure when it matters,” Westwood said. “You know, coming out this week knowing nothing but a win or second will do, and pulling it off, really.
“You know, those last three holes, I’m really proud of. But my proximity to the hole today, my iron play was stunning. I missed from 10 feet on the first, 8 feet on the third, 8 feet on the – sorry, 8 feet on the fourth, 8 feet on the fifth. It just kept ... wouldn’t go in the hole. But I kept grinding it out and made two birdies in the last three holes, and a nice 15-footer on 17 when I needed to, so it’s very satisfying.”
Perhaps that is the real key. Not only does he still have enthusiasm but he can deliver the goods. He isn’t as good as he was in 1998 when he won four events on the European Tour nor in 2000 when he won five, but once again he is as good as he or anyone else was – and perhaps more than once.
Top: Lee Westwood and his fiancé/caddie, Helen Storey, celebrate his Race to Dubai title.