As the newly self-described “Daddy” of England golf, Lee Westwood is proud that his country will boast a record number of representatives at next week’s Masters. Yet he cannot work out why the rest of the nation are not “shouting it from the rooftops”.
Westwood, 43, recalls the years at the turn of the century when it was only himself and Sir Nick Faldo with the Cross of Saint George by their names on the Augusta starting sheet. And when, in 2001, he was the only Englishman in the world’s top 100, the scenario seemed ever bleaker.
But here we are, a little more than a decade and a half on, and England now has 13 in that top 100, with enough for an entire football team at the season’s first major.
“Eleven of us are there and that’s even without Nick taking up his invite [as a former champion] – amazing isn’t it?” Westwood said. “No, I don’t think England knows what it has with golf and with the quality of professionals we are producing.
“Eleven in the Masters and there are fewer than 100 who have qualified? That’s an incredible achievement and should be shouted about from the rooftops. Yet, strangely, it isn’t.
“It’s funny, you say I was the only Englishman in the top 100 16 years ago, but golf seemed to get more media coverage back home then! I don’t know the reason for that. I suppose it’s do with it not being on terrestrial TV any more. I don’t want to name any other sports specifically, but if they get more than one or two in the world’s top 50 then the reaction is mad.
“It does seem a bit daft. This decade alone, England has had two world No 1s, at least half a dozen top-10 players and two major winners. At the Masters last year, we had first and second, in Danny [Willett] and myself. Tell me, which top-class sport is England better in than golf?
“And look at all the youngsters coming through. We have Danny, of course, and then there are the likes of [Tyrrell] Hatton, [Matt] Fitzpatrick, [Chris] Wood, [Andy] Sullivan, [Tommy] Fleetwood… the list goes on.
“Yeah, it is nice to be almost 44 and to still be up there, competing alongside them. I suppose I am like the Daddy of them all!”
Westwood’s bemusement is completely understandable and is shared by all of the English on Tour. Other than the United States, no other country has ever boasted so many at Augusta and England Golf, the governing body of amateur golf in the country, should be congratulated for its seemingly inexhaustible production line.
Of course, Westwood came through a long time ago, but talking here at the Golf Club of Houston on the eve of this Shell Houston Open, the former world No 1 sounds more confident than for some time.
“Someone says I’m 100-1 for Augusta and, although I don’t want to encourage anyone to bet, I’d say that’s a good price,” he said. “In the last seven Masters, I’ve only finished outside the top 12 once. I know my way around that course.
“And I’m playing much better I was 12 months ago. This time last year, I was rubbish at the [WGC] Match Play and then missed the cut here – and I still came runner-up at the Masters. I played really well in Mexico a few weeks back for 60-odd holes and played nicely at the Match Play. I think I was six under when I beat [Pat] Perez and only went out in a play-off.”
Westwood credits the improvements to the hours spent in the gym with Kevin Duffy, his fitness coach. “I’ve been working on the strength in my legs and I’ve always been at my best when I’ve had a solid base,” he said.
He has played in this event for the last nine seasons and this year he has been joined by a stellar cast including Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson, Henrik Stenson, John Rahm, Adam Scott and Justin Rose.
“They do such a good job here in replicating the conditions we’ll get at the Masters,” Westwood said. “If I didn’t play here I’d be shocked when I experienced the pace of the greens at Augusta.
“It’s great preparation for a great week. I haven’t looked as forward to a fortnight of golf as much as this for a few years.”