Golf on TV: ‘Emotional’ Lee Westwood makes Nedbank memorable

SUN CITY, SOUTH AFRICA - NOVEMBER 11: Lee Westwood of England poses with the trophy and drinks champagne after he wins the Nedbank Golf Challenge at Gary Player CC on November 11, 2018 in Sun City, South Africa. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images) Warren Little/Getty Images

Golf on TV: ‘Emotional’ Lee Westwood makes Nedbank memorable

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Golf on TV: ‘Emotional’ Lee Westwood makes Nedbank memorable

Entering Sunday, there was nothing to suggest that the Nedbank Golf Challenge hosted by Gary Player would be one of the most entertaining and emotional final rounds we would see on any tour in 2018. Frankly, I almost didn’t watch. But I’m glad I did.

Sure, Nedbank is the penultimate tournament in the European Tour’s Rolex Series. Sure, it had a strong field trying to capture the nearly $1.25 million winner’s check. So the tournament is a pretty big deal.

What was far more compelling, however, was the personal storyline that played out during the final round, with Lee Westwood’s unlikely victory after four winless seasons.

I say “unlikely,” though the announcing team seemed to have a sixth sense about Westwood’s chances.

“Everyone fancies Westy’s chances,” anchor Dougie Donnelly said before Westwood’s opening tee shot.

That seemed to be a reach. Westwood had won at Sun City twice, but there was little to suggest that he had a back-nine 31 up his sleeve. But the announcing crew played a hunch, and it paid off.

When Westwood eagled the par-5 third, Jay Townsend said, “Look out for Westwood. He’s won here twice before.”

“I think a lot of us have got a suspicion that Lee Westwood could be the man today,” Donnelly reiterated.

Westwood has won 24 times on the European Tour and more than 40 times worldwide. He’s been a top-10 player in the world, lost his game, then come all the way back. He’s reached No. 1 in the world. He was a Ryder Cup fixture for two decades. He’s done everything except win a major championship.

He’s always struck me as one of the game’s tough guys, the sort who shrugs off adversity and pushes on. Stiff upper lip and all that. So to see him choking back tears in his post-round interview with Tim Barter of Sky Sports was a reminder of how much the victory meant to him.

“I’m a little emotional, to be honest,” Westwood said as he gathered himself. “You’re never sure whether you’re going to be able to do it again.”

It could have been an even better moment with the benefit of a few more questions from a more skilled interviewer. But it was still pretty special.

Cool tools on TV

European Tour Productions deserves credit for employing a terrific collection of technology that helped enhance the viewing experience. We saw several cool tools, courtesy of Hawk-Eye Innovations, a division of Sony.

The technology was particularly good on the greens, where we saw a predictive putting line. We also saw shading of the green contours and virtual balls rolling to illustrate how the slopes would affect shots.

These aren’t new tools; Golf Channel had the predictive putting line more than a decade ago, but dropped it. But we rarely see these tools used. ETP used them extensively at Nedbank, and viewers benefitted from it.

Euros run circles around PGA Tour

The European Tour is running circles around the PGA Tour in the marketing of its players. That might be a reflection of the European Tour’s media-savvy CEO, Keith Pelley, or perhaps it reflects the buy-in from players. But on a weekly basis, we see European Tour players doing things that their American counterparts probably would never consider.

At Nedbank, players, including Westwood, found time to do short walk-and-talk interviews with Barter.

Westwood told Barter his experience on the course, where he already had won twice, would be helpful.

“I’ve probably experienced everything there is to experience around this golf course,” he said.

And he talked about the excitement of being back in contention: “You get a few nerves, which is perfectly natural. You would hope to be a little nervous when you’re trying to win a golf tournament. You’ve just got to try to control those and stick to your process.”

After starting with two birdies, Matt Wallace told Barter, “It’s funny, actually, I probably had the worst range session of the whole week, and … now that we’re into the round, I sort of feel like the swing is quite good.”

When Barter noted that Wallace was eight shots off the lead at the outset, Wallace said, “Didn’t Branden Grace shoot 9 under (last year), start at 2 under, and finished 11 under and win. It’s a big ask. … If we can give ourselves a chance, I’m definitely going after it.” (Actually, Grace shot 6 under in the final round to win the 2017 Nedbank at 11 under, but point taken.)

The grace and good humor both players demonstrated reflected well on them. There was another unanticipated beneficiary: Ping Golf, which happens to sponsor both players. Viewers didn’t just see the Ping logo on their hats, they saw two appealing personalities representing the brand. I can’t help but think that’s more beneficial to the brand than, for example, hearing Bryson DeChambeau’s NASCAR-like recital of his sponsor list as viewers roll their eyes. Gwk

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