While the rest of the world pondered what fresh mental torment Lee Westwood might be going through after he surrendered the lead of another major championship, the man himself found an alternative way to cope, by playing cricket with his son.
No wonder, then, that he is able to play the straightest of bats to questions about his mental fortitude as he simply “gets on with life” after seeing the opportunity to end his quest for a major title vanish over 18 agonising holes at Muirfield.
The narrative was slightly familiar for Westwood: for the second time in his career, his lead dissolved in the final round. Faced with another date with destiny, the former world number one found himself stood up again.
Yesterday, teeing off on the golf course that bears his name at the sumptuous Close House, he was among friends and it showed. These days Westwood considers himself something of an “adopted Geordie” on account of his close association with the Heddon-on-the-Wall course where he is the attached pro. His relationship with the course – and by extension North East businessman Graham Wylie – has been tremendous for golf in the region, raising its profile while also beguiling Westwood. He is the perfect ambassador, major win or not.
So in a way, it was almost the perfect place for him to mark his return to normality after the Open win that wasn’t. And you have to say: if Westwood is really racked by doubt or uncertainty, he has a funny way of showing it. Sipping coffee in the plush cafe-bar that overlooks the Filly Course that bears his name at Close House, he found inspiration in his surroundings when asked to evaluate an epic weekend.
“What’s the word they use up here? It was ‘mint’. I played ‘mint’ for three days and then not so good on Sunday,” he tells The Journal in an exclusive interview just 48 hours after the Open finale.
“I mean, I played all right but not fantastic on Sunday. I just didn’t do enough things to create my own momentum. But the first three days were good.
“I finished third in a major championship. I think you’ve got to take positives out of that. I was stood on the first tee on Sunday, last off. I think that is the position that every professional golfer wants to find themselves in.
“Leading the Open, being the last one to tee off, thousands of people there – it was a great atmosphere.” Top level golf, with its battle between green, fairway and player, is unique in its capacity to tear apart even the most confident of athletes. You only have to witness the disintegration of Rory McIlroy at the Open to see how talent can be overridden by mental fragility. And he already has a major title – two in fact – on his CV.
Without one, you might expect Westwood to be fretting. Instead he remains coolly detached, insisting the problems he faced were with the mechanics of his game – not the mental side of it. “They said I don’t know how to win a major and I don’t, because I haven’t won one yet. Who are these experts? I’ve probably won the same amount of majors as most of them,” he said.
“I tend not to listen to the critics. I don’t hear the criticism – I don’t listen to the radio, I was playing cricket on Monday. I don’t read the articles because I just can’t be bothered. I live in my own little world.”
The longer he goes, the more acute the disappointment might become and the more searching the questions.
A brave soul mentioned Colin Montgomerie and comparisons have been drawn between the great Scot, who searched in vain for a major win despite all his career accomplishments, and the 40-year-old. “Yes, I know about the comparisons. But he didn’t actually get to world number one, he got to world number two. I got to number one.
“The next one is only two weeks away, so it’s exciting that I get another chance to do it. And if I don’t win that one, I’ve got another eight months to prepare for the Masters at Augusta.
“I tend not to look at negatives really – and what other people think. “I don’t over-analyse on a Sunday night after the event. I probably had one, maybe two, wrong clubs all day. The shots I dropped really were down to operator errors – not mental errors.”
Even if he is unaffected by the weekend, yesterday was certainly a more pleasant experience for Westwood, who unveiled the revamped Filly Course. The course is further confirmation of a union that is mutually beneficial. Close House gets the rub of his success while Westwood has found a new crop of supporters.
“I’m like an adopted Geordie now, I suppose! At the Open you get fantastic support for everyone, but it’s amazing how you can pick out the accent and it’s cheering you on,” he said. “It didn’t surprise me to hear people shouting, ‘Do it for Close House’ out on the course at the Open.
“That’s the point of being associated with it: it’s a bonus for them they’ve got a pro that they can latch onto and support and cheer too.”
The biggest of those supporters has been Alan Shearer, another golf fanatic, who was introduced to Westwood by Wylie through their joint support for the Children’s Heart Unit Fund. Westwood revealed: “He sent me a text, along with Graham, to say good luck and that they were behind me. It’s nice, but I try to get Alan as much out of his comfort zone as possible when we’re playing.
“I could play him at football; I could stand up to that easily! I can kick with both feet, I don’t think that’s something Alan could do ...”
TOMORROW: Lee Westwood writes for The Journal