This isn’t the way it was supposed to be.
When Lee Westwood won the PGA European Tour Order of Merit in 2000, the future looked bright.
Westwood, 29, not only was considered the heir apparent to Nick Faldo’s crown as England’s best golfer, he was heralded as the best in Europe. When he broke Colin Montgomerie’s run of seven consecutive European No. 1 titles by winning the 2000 Order of Merit, it was seen as the beginning of Westwood’s domination. More Order of Merits were expected, as were major championships.
Instead, his career has gone into reverse.
When Faldo teed it up at last month’s U.S. Open at Bethpage State Park’s Black Course, Westwood was back home in Worksop, England, watching the six-time major winner finish tied for fifth. Westwood did not qualify. It was the first time he had missed the U.S. Open in six seasons, and a sad reminder of how far his game has declined.
Indeed, the last 18 months have been dismal.
The only bright spot in 2001 was a second in the Volvo Scandinavian Masters. He became the first player since Sandy Lyle in 1986 to win the Order of Merit one season, then fail to win a tournament the following year. Westwood slid to 52nd on the money list.
Things haven’t been much better this season.
Through the Murphy’s Irish Open, where Westwood recorded his best finish of the year (tied for 19th), he was 99th on the Order of Merit, 96th in the official World Golf Ranking and 225th in the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index. By comparison, Faldo was 10th, 49th and 67th, respectively.
Worse yet, as they both head to the British Open, Faldo has more chance of winning his fourth Open – he has won two at Muirfield – than Westwood has of winning his first.
So what has gone wrong for Westwood? A small minority blames his so-called “fat cat” lifestyle, saying Westwood has made too much money the past five years and has become lazy. It’s a view scorned by Westwood.
“You get all sorts of rumors I suppose when you’re struggling,” said Westwood, who finished sixth or better in the Order of Merit from 1996 to 2000. “I even heard there were rumors at the U.S. Open that I had turned into an alcoholic. But no one can say I don’t work hard enough, because I do.
“I have probably worked harder these past couple of years than when I was successful. I have been working very hard with (coach) Pete Cowen, spending a lot of time on the range, like four hours at a time. So for anyone to say I haven’t been working hard just proves that they don’t know what they are talking about.”
So Westwood gets full marks for effort, but it’s true his mind hasn’t been fully on the job since April 2001. That was when Westwood and his wife, Laurae, gave birth to son Samuel Bevan, causing Westwood to withdraw from the Masters. Like many new fathers, Westwood is a doting one. He often can be seen after rounds carrying young Sam in his arms at PGA European Tour events. Anyone looking for a reason for Westwood’s decline need look no further.
“It’s true Lee took his eye off the ball slightly when he and Laurae had the baby, but that’s only natural when it’s their first child,” said Andrew “Chubby” Chandler, Westwood’s manager.
Dr. John Pates, a sports psychologist, believes Westwood’s new family life has had an impact.
“He’s got a different lifestyle, and I think the lifestyle is affecting him more than anything really,” said Pates, who works with Darren Clarke, Westwood’s friend and stablemate in Chandler’s ISM management group. “Why come out on tour when you’ve got a lovely home and you want to be with your wife and child? Does he really want to play golf right now? I would probably say no. He would probably be better off having a year’s rest and doing what he wants in his home life before coming back.”
Taking a year off isn’t an option for Westwood because of contractual obligations and the upcoming Ryder Cup. Besides, it could be argued that he already has had a year off, given his results.
If Westwood’s peers are concerned, then they have expressed those concerns privately. Ask fellow competitors on the European Tour about Westwood’s game and, to a man, they believe the Englishman will bounce back.
“Form is a fickle thing, and all it takes is for Lee to have one good week and he’ll be back,” said Paul McGinley.
Ryder Cup teammate Padraig Harrington agrees.
“It only takes a couple of weeks for Lee to get his game back,” Harrington said. “It’s only two years ago that he was playing poorly in the Benson & Hedges (International Open at The Belfry) and then went and won in Germany the next week (the 2000 Deutsche Bank-SAP Open TPC of Europe). So that proves just how quickly he can turn his game around.”
Clarke is even more succinct.
“No one has to worry about Lee Westwood,” Clarke said. “Absolutely no one.”
Ryder Cup captain Sam Torrance has been watching Westwood’s performances closely. He needs an in-form Westwood for the match against Curtis Strange’s United States squad at The Belfry in September. Like Harrington and McGinley, Torrance believes Westwood can bounce back from 18 months of hell.
“I have no worries about Lee,” Torrance said. “His form hasn’t been great this year, but I’m sure he’ll be ready for the Ryder Cup. He’s too good a player and will get his game together. Form can come back very quickly, and all it takes is one good tournament and he’ll be back to his best.”
Torrance’s words rang hollow earlier this year when Westwood missed consecutive cuts in the Benson & Hedges, the Deutsche Bank-SAP Open and the Volvo PGA Championship, three of the biggest tournaments on the European Tour.
Westwood broke that streak when he tied for 45th at the Victor Chandler British Masters. Anyone who doubted Westwood’s desire should have witnessed his frustration after the opening round. Seconds after leaving the 18th green, he smashed his putter on a concrete path, snapping off the head. Not exactly the actions of a man who doesn’t care.
“I feel like I’m back on the motorway now,” Westwood said then. “I’m not in the fast lane, probably in the middle lane, but at least I am no longer on the hard shoulder with a flat tire.”
Recently, Westwood has shown signs of shifting gears to cruise into that outside lane. A 4-under 67 in the opening round of the Murphy’s Irish Open signaled a major breakthrough for Westwood: his first sub-70 round of the year. It was exactly what his psyche needed.
“The missing ingredient is confidence, and I just don’t have any confidence right now,” Westwood said. “I just haven’t been up there of late. Confidence comes from playing well, but you can’t get any confidence if you don’t play well, so it’s just a vicious cycle. It will come from putting a few scores together, battling it out and achieving a few results.”
Chandler doesn’t doubt Westwood will regain his confidence, but says his client has to learn to walk before he can run.
“I’ve been telling him just to be patient,” Chandler said. “He expects to get back into the winner’s circle right away, and he can’t think that way. He’s got to look at it as a series of building blocks. He needs a top 20, then a top 10, then a top 5, a top 3 and progress that way.”
Westwood hopes the British Open can be the first block.