Westwood's way

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Finding Fun, Forgetting Frustration - 149th Open Championship
Posted on
July 15, 2021
M. James Ward in
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Lee Westwood has had an exceptional professional golf career but at this week's Open Championship at Royal St. George's the Englishman will set a record he just as soon wishes comes to end with him holding the famed Claret Jug as the "Champion Golfer of the Year."

The Open - Westwood's way
David Davies/PA Wire

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes


This week marks the 88th major championship he will play. Westwood is tied at this moment with American Jay Haas for the most played majors without winning one of the four central events on the golf calendar. Such a "distinction" is a heavy anchor that Westwood would like to forever remove from his neck.

Since turning professional in 1993, he has claimed 44 titles and done so with wins in Europe, North America, Africa, Asia and Australia. Truly impressive.

On the flip side has been the ongoing drought in claiming one of the four major championships -- the events that burnish the clearest statement on a golfer's legacy. 

To his credit, Westwood has been a constant presence at the top of leaderboards around the globe and has won at least one professional event covering four different decades. Again -- truly impressive.

Competing at the world class level is a never-ending exercise in handling the ups and downs associated with the highest levels of competition. Westwood has experienced the full gamut of emotions -- showing resolve in placing himself in contention but for whatever the reason being unable to finish off a major championship with him standing above the rest.

The Open - Westwood's way
(David Davies/PA Wire)

The 48-year-old has climbed the pedestal of being ranked the number one player in the world for 22 weeks -- most notably by bumping off Tiger Woods from the top spot in the process. The downside of the achievement was that Westwood joins fellow Englishman Luke Donald in having claimed the top position without having won a major event. The aforementioned anchor inserting itself yet again.

Finishing off an event with him standing in the victory circle has been an ongoing chore for Westwood. It's a situation that confronts players given the reality that only one person can snatch the trophy at an event's conclusion.

Lee's play this year on the PGA Tour has featured back-to-back runner-up positions at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and The Players Championship. In both events, Westwood played well -- just not well enough to overcome the likes of winners Bryson DeChambeau and Justin Thomas respectively. 

Westwood's fine play has clearly put him into a solid position to secure another selection to the Ryder Cup matches. If that should happen it will mark a record tying 11th time that Westwood has been selected to the European team for the event which will be played this September at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin. In addition, he has played on a record seven winning European squads -- the most by any player in the event's history.

This week's Open Championship marks the 26th time Lee will play for the famed Claret Jug. Westwood has been in the mix on different occasions with the most notable coming in 2013. Leading going into the final round it appeared he would finally stand atop and claim his first major title at famed Muirfield. A final round 75 doomed his chances and he could only watch as Phil Mickelson stormed to victory with a sensational ending round of 66.



When the U.S. Open was played earlier this year at Torrey Pines -- many recalled the memories of the event held there in '08, recalling the superb birdie putt made by Woods at the final hole securing a playoff spot against Rocco Mediate from which he would win the next day. 

What many people often fail to remember is Westwood playing with Tiger in the final round and having a putt of somewhat longer length to also tie. Westwood's putt did not have a similar joyous fist pump ending in getting him also into the playoff.

Closing out tournaments is the hardest dimension in professional golf. Winning when you are supposed to win only adds another layer of suffocating pressure.

At last week's Scottish Open -- Westwood played admirably with a two-round total of 132 and just one shot behind going into weekend play. His final two rounds provided a 143 total and a finish considerably down the leaderboard.

All told -- Westwood has 9 top 3 finishes in a major event -- the most ever for a player without winning one. In addition, there have been 10 top ten finishes -- with 12 in the top five. Coming into The Open he is ranked 29th in the world -- having started the year in the 36th position.



Burnout is not an uncommon development for those playing any sport at the highest of levels. There's also the reality that one's best performances are more in the rear-view mirror and the desire to play in concert with the needed hours for sufficient preparation may wane as passion subsides. 

What's been the fuel keeping Westwood chasing his journey? That key ingredient happened off the course when Lee met Helen Storey, a physical fitness trainer, in 2015 after separating from his wife Laurae Coltart with whom he had two children. Storey eventually filled in one week in 2018 as Westwood's caddie and the experience provided a needed shot--in-the-arm resurgence for Lee's career as he would win in South Africa ending a four-year drought from the winner's circle.

“At my stage of my career, there’s not a lot a caddie can tell me, but obviously Helen gets me in a fantastic mood out there, and psychologically she can help me and say the things that I need to hear,” Lee said during this year's Players Championship.

The pair proceeded to keep they're on and off course situation going -- eventually marrying this past June in Las Vegas.

Storey's knowledge of golf was limited at the time in her meeting Lee, but her influence on Westwood was noticeable -- giving him a perspective on how to enjoy the stressful moments inherent to professional golf. Westwood has also engaged his son Sam to be on his bag at different times -- including at this past April's Masters.


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A post shared by Lee Westwood (@westwood_lee)

Playing at the highest levels of any sport is always stressful. The competition is fierce -- the highs of success quickly submerged by the many failures inherent to golf and the escalating negative baggage that can quickly increase as one-week slides into the next.

Westwood's journey to Royal St. George’s this week can provide solace that veteran players -- euphemism for older -- can still play at the highest of levels. Lee's close chum Darren Clarke won in 2011 at age 42 when The Open was last played in Sandwich. There’s also the magic that Phil Mickelson displayed at age 50 when claiming this year's PGA Championship. If such things can happen to others in the twilight of their careers why not him?


Yes, this will mark the 88th time Westwood will start a major event but the perspective of his life is now shaped by those around him. 72 holes of golf await him at an event he would dearly want to claim. Undoubtedly, whether he ever secures a major championship title, it is all but certain Westwood will take his place as a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame at some point.

For golfers the margins between success and failure are as small as the cup they seek to fill with a little white pellet. Westwood knows full well the journey with its ebbs and flows but is now relishing the moments. Realizing having fun can provide the needed pathway to his ultimate fulfillment on the golf course. 

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About M. James Ward

A GWAA and MGWA member, the 66-year-old from the USA has covered golf in all facets since 1980, notably the major championships and other high level events. He has played over 2,000 courses globally and has competed in USGA Championships.

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