At the conclusion of the BMW Championship at Wentworth in September, we and Lee Westwood were roundly mistaken.
The Englishman had just signed for a five-over 77, plummeting him off the Ryder Cup qualification tracker in the media centre. He (and we) thought his automatic chances of being at Whistling Straits were gone.
Westwood seemed to think he was whistling in the dark for a wildcard. He praised Shane Lowry, adding he was unaware and unconcerned about the remaining scenarios.
“I’ll be in a car going home and I’ll have no interest in what is going on in this tournament,” he said. “Golf stopped being the be all and end all in my life a few years ago.” (remember that quote for later)
‘There you go. My name’s in the hat’
EXCLUSIVE: Lee Westwood rules out being Europe's Ryder Cup captain in 2023 https://t.co/yTTFReBY6n
— James Corrigan (@jcorrigangolf) November 26, 2021
He went on to discuss future Ryder Cups, specifically Rome in 2023. “It’s the captain’s prerogative to pick who he wants. Who he feels like is in form, who fits his team well. I am throwing down these markers and parameters for a couple of years’ time.”
Asked to elucidate further on 2023, he said he’d like to be thought of as a candidate to be Europe’s captain.
“That would be good,” he continued. “There’s a process now. Can I throw my name in the hat, Parky?” he asked of David Park, the tour’s player relations manager, who was standing nearby.
Park nodded and Westwood added “There you go. My name’s in the hat.”
In the end, Westwood didn’t drive home, Shane Lowry slipped off the automatic qualification tracker and the Englishman made the team. If anything, that seemed to cement his candidacy for Rome. Or so we all thought.
Instead, last week, the 48-year-old took his name out of the hat.
“Of course it is not a decision I’ve taken lightly as it would be a huge honour to captain Europe,” he told James Corrigan of the Telegraph. “It is something I’d love to do one day.
“But it’s almost a full-time job nowadays and that is something I can’t commit to while I’m in the (world’s) top 50 and still competitive. The Ryder Cup is very close to my heart and I would only take on the role if I believe I could give it 100 per cent.”
Balancing playing and skippering
It was an interesting golfing year for me. One highlight I will look back on forever will be the Ryder Cup caddies presenting me with a Rolex watch in recognition of our bond during the match. I couldn’t of asked for any more from all of these guys. @RyderCupEurope @DPWorldTour pic.twitter.com/3BJMHimWJz
— Padraig Harrington (@padraig_h) November 23, 2021
It’s a valid point. Padraig Harrington did a better job at keeping playing than most. But other than him it’s quite evident that being Ryder Cup captain makes toast of your playing career.
There are benefits. One tour blazer once told me that being Ryder Cup skipper was worth “two Rolex Series wins” from endorsements and other sources. Westwood has no doubt weighed this up and thinks his earning possibilities playing are greater.
He’s certainly entitled to think that. At 48 he’s fitter, trimmer and longer than he’s ever been.
He admits he needs to pace himself these days in terms of schedule. But there’s no reason why he can’t continue to have streaks like March this year, when he nearly won twice on the PGA Tour.
Another potential factor, of course, is the Saudi “disruptor”. Westwood was quoted “it would be a no-brainer to join at my age” back in May when the rebel tour was first being proposed.
Then Lee’s name appeared on a long list of established players who have declared to play in next February’s Saudi International. It’s the flagship for their new tour and has effectively been outlawed by both the PGA and DP World Tours.
A supremely awkward situation
— Ryder Cup USA (@RyderCupUSA) October 18, 2021
Bans or disputes between the European Tour hierarchy (it still exists in the Ryder Cup scenario) and a prospective European Ryder Cup captain would be a supremely awkward situation. Has Westwood withdrawn his candidacy for Rome to avoid that?
That does seems something of a leap. Particularly when you consider that also “confirmed” for the Saudi event are now prospective Rome captaincy candidates like Graeme McDowell, Henrik Stenson, Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia and Paul Casey.
The tour rattled the sabres last week on what they would do if members defied them and played in Saudi. It seems that many established names are still prepared to make this a proper stand-off, even if a Ryder Cup captaincy might hang on it.
But we’ve long believed that there was such a queue for the captaincy of Europe that it would never be cleared of deserving candidates. Might this be a way in which it’s thinned out a little?
You surely can’t imagine Poulter, for one, will sacrifice a captaincy, no matter how much they pay him. He probably becomes favourite now. Luke Donald and Justin Rose (who has not declared for the Saudi event, yet) are also strong candidates.
Westwood? It’s a little easier to imagine. He’s talked in interview after interview recently – not just at Wentworth – about golf not mattering that much to him anymore.
“I care about the Ryder Cup, it would be nice to be in it,” he said in an earlier interview at the BMW PGA. “But I don’t lose sleep about golf anymore.”
“What do I lose sleep over? Family, health, that’s about it.”
Pettersen the obvious choice
— Solheim Cup Team Europe (@SolheimCupEuro) November 29, 2021
Catriona Matthew wouldn’t be convinced to take on a third Solheim Cup captaincy even if it had been offered. On those grounds, Suzann Pettersen was the obvious choice to skipper Europe in Spain in 2023.
The one doubt is that Suzann will be four years retired by the time the matches come around. The US has lost the last two Solheims with skippers probably too long out of the top-level game.
But in this case the Norwegian is a prominent and towering figure in European team history, like her predecessor. Affinity and respect with the players is an absolute given. And as one of Catriona’s chief lieutenants at Gleneagles and Inverness, the progression is seamless.