Lee Westwood: ‘Winning a major won’t dictate how I’m remembered’

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Lee Westwood: ‘Winning a major won’t dictate how I’m remembered’
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A few months ago, Lee Westwood stood on the 18th green at The Players Championship, knowing his biggest victory had just slipped away, and he smiled, sighed, laughed and lifted his arms in the air. It is rare for the miles golf inflicts on its players to be trodden in contentment, but it is easy to spot the carefree air that has breathed new life into the 48-year-old’s long career, and harder to remember a time when he’s savoured every moment with such enthusiasm.

It is a remarkable difference to the fallowness of a few years ago when, after hundreds of events and dozens of victories, Westwood began to lose sight of what he was chasing. Although his ambition hadn’t wavered, his happiness hinged on results and such a way of thinking can have a tendency to leave one hollow. The key to unlocking the path back, he says, was a near-total restructuring of his perspective, breaking down the burdens of pressure to unearth the foundations that spurred so much of his success.

“I don’t know whether you can quantify happiness, but I’m able to view the game as it should be viewed now,” he says. “I was treating golf too seriously, I needed more perspective and clarity, and to look at golf for what it is again. It makes me laugh when I listen to people and read stuff… at the end of the day you’re just trying to put a little white ball into a hole, I mean it’s stupid really the seriousness people put on it. I get to do something I enjoy every day, travel the world doing it and earn a lot of money, and I’m lucky to be in that position. I’m still doing all the preparation but, after that, I’m just having fun.”

Westwood’s renaissance began in 2017. He split from his long-time management agency, his caddie shortly afterwards, and settled his protracted divorce. After sinking to No 125 in the world rankings and admitting “golf doesn’t mean as much”, he found a way to hit life’s mythical reset button. The results have been cathartic.

At the Nedbank Challenge in 2018, Westwood won his first event in over four years, with his then-girlfriend, Helen Storey, carrying his bag. Since then, he has won again in Abu Dhabi, was crowned the European Tour’s best player in 2019 and is now a shoo-in for a Ryder Cup place five years after his last appearance. Storey has remained his caddie – although the role is occasionally rotated with Westwood’s son, Sam – and they were married in a Las Vegas ceremony last month.

“I’m in exactly the place I want to be and surrounded by the people I want to be surrounded by,” he says. “I enjoy being able to spend more time with [my family] and share what I do with them on the big stage. They get to experience that and I get to learn more about them as they learn about me. I wouldn’t change anything. That’s probably the definition of being in a comfort zone.”

The last few years have also led Westwood to re-evaluate what success means. At the heights of his powers in 2011, when he toppled Tiger Woods to become the world No 1, Westwood admitted he’d harbour some form of regret if he failed to win a major in his career. He has endured some agonising near-misses, with nineteen top-10 finishes since he turned professional in 1993, but has never been more adamant that such a record will not define him.

Lee Westwood in action at the Scottish Open (Getty Images)
Lee Westwood in action at the Scottish Open (Getty Images)

“You know what, if you walk around a graveyard and look at the tombstones, I don’t see many people where it says, ‘Oh yeah, he won six majors, he won 10 majors or whatever’,” he says. “They put down what kind of person you were and what kind of dad and husband you were. Golf results and finishes and tournament wins won’t dictate how I’m remembered. Whether I win majors or not, in 20 years time, that’ll definitely not bother me. It won’t change my life.”

That being said, there is still no doubting that Westwood is a serious contender at Royal St George’s this week. He played impressively at the recent Scottish Open, finished in tied fourth at Royal Portrush in 2019, and insists the memories of a grinding performance at Sandwich, when he missed the cut a decade ago, have long been banished from his mind.

“I can’t even remember playing in The Open at Royal St George’s [in 2003 and 2011],” he says. “I played poorly there twice and I can’t even remember the golf course. I remember the last, I remember a few holes, but I can’t remember the routes in to be honest. If you’re any kind of good golfer, you look at your poor performances and try and learn from them but then you forget them very quickly. I think that’s a skill.”

But if winning is far from a necessity, then what does success look like? “Just to keep enjoying what I’m doing and having the fortitude to keep working hard at it,” he says. “[I’m proud] that I’ve always put the work in and I’m bearing the fruits of the hard work I put in 10 or 15 years ago. I’m still committed mentally to go out and practice hard, I’ve been in the gym this morning to stay on top of my fitness and work on my strength. I’ve not sat back in later life. Upstairs I still think I’m like 25. It’ll come to a point when I’m not good enough, I’ll be too old, but right now I feel like if I play my best I can still contend. But whether I am or not, I’ll enjoy what I’m doing.”

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