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  • Alistair Tait

The wonder that is Lee John Westwood

I wish I’d asked Lee Westwood where he thought he’d be in 25 years when I interviewed him during his rookie 1994 season.

Pretty sure he wouldn’t have said preparing to win his third European Tour money list.

The newly-crowned 2020 European Tour number one was Golf Monthly’s rookie on tour back in 1994. I went along to Mere Golf Club in Cheshire to meet him and work with him on the first instalment of his rookie of the year columns, which I co-wrote for the rest of the season.

I wouldn’t say Westwood came across as cocky, but he was certainly a confident individual. I don’t think he was as confident as to say he’d win the Harry Vardon Trophy three times, 25 tournaments, make 567 European Tour starts, earn €37,990,549.47 in official money, play in 10 Ryder Cups and be on the verge of making another appearance in the biennial match.

I’d probably have burst out laughing if he’d said all that. Yet here is as European number one at age 47, 20 years after he was first crowned European number one, and 11 years after winning the 2009 Race to Dubai. Impressive.

Westwood earned his European Tour card by taking the fifth card at the 1993 European Tour Qualifying School. American Bryan Nelson took the top card. Remember him? Didn’t think so.

Of that class of 1993, only Andrew Coltart, Westwood’s former brother in law, and Alex Cejka also went on to have a good careers. Coltart won twice and played on the same 1999 Ryder Cup team as Westwood. He packed up his playing career in 2011 after 495 starts and now makes his living as a TV commentator. Cejka won four times in Europe before emigrating to the PGA Tour. He turns 50 in December and is looking forward to the Champions Tour.

Westwood really should be just keeping his game in tune at this stage of his career to join Cejka in senior golf, but he’s nowhere near done on the regular circuit. The 47-year-old Englishman must have a portrait in his attic that’s ageing while he retains the talent to compete with guys 20 years younger than him.

Tee to green, Westwood isn’t far away from when he was world number one. He's always been a greater driver of the ball and a superb iron player. And for a guy who’s supposedly a bit suspect on the greens, he ranked seventh this season in putts per green in regulation, and was 31st in average putts per round with 28.85.

That elusive major championship victory may remain just that, since he’s obviously not going to get too many more chances in the tournaments that matter. As for Samuel Ryder’s trophy, don’t be surprised if he’s in Padraig Harrington’s starting 12 next year instead of acting as a vice-captain as did in 2018.

“I'd love to play again obviously,” he said. “If I do qualify for the team then I’m clearly good enough. That’s the way I’m going to play it. I can still turn up to the biggest tournaments and compete as I proved at the start of the year in Abu Dhabi. And at the U.S. Open I’d have finished fifth if I hadn’t bogeyed the last two holes. So I’m not going to say it’s one of my goals for next year because you should never make the Ryder Cup one of your goals. But I could see it happening.”

Don’t expect Westwood to rest on his laurels despite his third European number one title. Even at 47 his desire is still as strong as ever:

“I’m kind of the more mature player on the European Tour now. It wasn’t something I set out to do at the start of the year, but it shows the consistency I’ve shown. The motivation’s never changed, really. I get to get up each day and do the job I love. I’ve always wanted to be a golfer and I don’t want it to end.”

Second in the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai neatly bookended his season after opening the year by winning the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. Don’t discount him winning more European Tour events. No one would be surprised if his eventual winning tally is closer to 30 victories than his current 25.

I honestly wouldn’t have made that prediction on that rainy day at Mere all those years ago. Oh, the wonder that is Lee John Westwood.

#JustSaying: “I'm like fine wine – the older I get the better I play." Eduardo Romero after winning the 2002 Barclays Scottish Open at age 47 years and 362 days

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