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Westwood story
Lee Westwood will be playing his seventh Ryder Cup match (Getty Images)

Westwood sets sights on Faldo's record

Lee Westwood will continue a love affair with The Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor that began in 1997 and now his sights are set on the record books.

Lee Westwood was in Holland not Scotland, but otherwise aping Nick Faldo’s Open Championship success at Muirfield in 1987 – that is to say stringing a succession of pars together on the way to another European Tour victory. 

Westwood was already eight straight regulation figures into his round when he spotted a couple of friendly scribes. He asked why they were walking the course instead of treading the path to the nearest bar.

“Good question,” replied one, before adding:  “I was wondering that myself because this is boring.”  Westwood offered a wry smile and said “Oh.....really?” before dipping into his bag and pulling out a sand iron.

With that, he took dead aim, pulled the trigger and promptly holed out from exactly 106 yards.   “Exciting enough now?” he said and winked as he headed off towards another success while the hacks stood and shook their heads in disbelief.

Lee Westwood cannot do everything to order, but he has been doing special and spectacular things for 14 years now.  With more than 30 victories worldwide he has become not only one of the best, but also one of the most respected and well liked golfers anywhere the Royal and Ancient game is played... and he is as truly a global golfer as his achievements suggest.

Two years before that success in the 1999 Dutch Open, Westwood had already been compared to Faldo, but at that time the King and Prince of English golf were not sharing pars, just a record-breaking Ryder Cup partnership.

Faldo had made his name and had won the six Major Championships that would lead to a knighthood. Now, in what would be his 11th and final match as a player, he was closing in on the all-time Ryder Cup points record. He had already identified rookie Westwood as the player he wanted from Seve Ballesteros’ Team at his side in Valderrama as he chased personal and collective history in the first match on Continental European soil.

It was an inspired choice because Westwood turned out to be the dominant force in the partnership and holed the decisive putts that would beat Tiger Woods and Mark O’Meara in the Saturday morning fourballs to give Faldo his 25 point record. For Faldo it was the end of his Ryder Cup playing days. For Westwood it was the start of a now 13 year love affair with team golf’s greatest competition.   Faldo’s record stands to this day, but it is no surprise that the player who is chasing it down and most likely to break it is indeed Westwood.

There was nothing pre-determined about Westwood’s career path as he grew up in Worksop – the only child of maths teacher John and his wife Trish. Indeed, if his own dreams had come true, he would have been playing left wing for his beloved Nottingham Forest after leaving school with a ton of O levels.

It was his success in the 1991 Peter McEvoy Trophy and then the 1993 British Youths Open Amateur Championship which convinced him that instead of Forest red, Lincoln green would be a more appropriate colour for somebody born on the fringes of Sherwood Forest. Indeed, from that Youths success, Westwood needed just three more years before he was registering his first professional triumph on The European Tour.

The Volvo Scandinavian Masters was quickly followed by others until, in the late 1990’s and into the turn of the century, he was knocking titles off at will.  For 30 months between 1998 and 2000, he won no fewer than 18 times. He once told me that he knew when he was going to win.  He was rarely wrong and never once was there a trace of arrogance or big-headedness in his words.   Anybody in the know and prone to insider trading could have made fortunes.

Success like that would have gone to many a head, but not Westwood’s. He may have been an only child, but he was never spoiled and he reflects to this day the manners and lessons he learned as a child and through adolescence. ‘Brought up right way,’ as they say up north.

On his first introduction to Arnold Palmer, he was invited to refer to his host at Bay Hill in the familiar.  To this day, Westwood has not been able to – always calling the publically-acclaimed King as ‘Mr Palmer’.  It is a courtesy he would afford other legends of the game and still does.

It would be another meeting on another day that would shape Westwood away from the course, however.  When he first cast eyes on Brookline Ryder Cup colleague Andrew Coltart’s sister Laurae in St Andrews, he knew he had seen the mother of his children. Laurae, working as a beautician in the spa at the Old Course Hotel at the time, came to live with Lee in Worksop when they married and they now have Samuel Bevan, born in 2001, and Poppy Grace, who followed three years later. 

There have been other influential women in his life apart from mother and wife.  Nobody more so than his late nan, who was his behaviour monitor on the course.

At one tournament when frustration finally invoked an angry response, he took a swipe at a branch and dislodged a few leaves.   Nan was not happy and told him that whatever had gone wrong on the course, it was not the bush’s fault.  There would be few other wrist slapping exercises. Since nan’s death, mum Trish has assumed conduct control responsibilities.  It is not a job which occupies much of her time.

Westwood’s behaviour in The Ryder Cup has been nothing less than impeccable in both victory and defeat.  After making his name and Faldo’s record in Valderrama, he partnered Ulsterman Darren Clarke to one foursomes and one fourball victory at The Country Club in Brookline in 1999, the latter success coming over Tiger Woods and David Duval – the men who would go on to win the next two Open Championships.

But the wins turned out to be in a lost cause as Ben Crenshaw’s troops went on a premature victory march over the 17th green and José Maria Olazábal’s line during the drama of Sunday’s singles. It was a match which left a bitter taste, but Sam Torrance and counterpart Curtis Strange did all that was needed to return the competition to its correct state at The Belfry in 2002 – the tragedy of 9/11 having caused the postponement of the scheduled 2001 match.

Westwood was now paired with the brilliant young Spaniard Sergio Garcia and the pair won their first three matches together. Woods, in partnership with Mark Calcavecchia in Friday afternoon’s foursomes, was again one of the victims, before he and Davis Love III prevailed in the European duo’s fourth encounter together on Saturday afternoon.

Although paired with Garcia again in the fourballs at Oakland Hills in Michigan in 2004, close friends Clarke and Westwood would forge a major partnership in foursomes play – Woods again, in partnership this time with Phil Mickelson, among the vanquished.  With overall victory for Europe assured, thousands celebrated near the last green while, later that evening, hundreds got to see another side of Westwood rarely witnessed outside his closest circle of friends and relatives.

Westwood took on the role of compere as the celebrations entered a Bloomfield Township hostelry – standing on top of the bar to announce all his fellow colleagues from the European Team. Americans and visitors alike loved the needle-sharp brand of dry humour as he ad-libbed his way through the introductions and conducted the singing.

There was a more serious tone to the encounter at The K Club in Ireland two years later because it came just six weeks after the loss of Darren Clarke’s wife Heather to breast cancer.  The nearby Liffey was close to overflowing with tears as Westwood whipped up the crowd ahead of Clarke’s entrance onto the tee.  The noise attacked thousands of eardrums like nothing ever heard at a Ryder Cup before or since.

The story may have had others as the headline that week, but Westwood went quietly about his business – claiming four of the five points on offer to him as well as not losing a match – the second successive occasion he had achieved such a remarkable feat.

Moving onto Valhalla Golf Club in Kentucky in 2008, although the result was not what Europe wanted, the match did provide a personal highlight for Westwood when his two halved matches during the first day’s play on Friday saw him equal Arnold Palmer’s record of 12 successive matches undefeated. Mr Palmer’s record was ascertained between 1965 and 1971 while Westwood’s feat came from 2004 to 2008, an achievement which further etched his name deeper into Ryder Cup folklore.

There have been fewer more determined golfers made in England. It is to Westwood’s lasting credit that he has changed little in the process of turning from an unknown into a major sporting celebrity known throughout the golfing world.

It is safe to say that Lee John Westwood comes up to par in every respect.

 

Martin Hardy


Reproduced by kind permission of Colin Montgomerie's Official Ryder Cup Guide

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