Lee Westwood might be 21 years retired by now instead of celebrating a Race to Dubai title, a fourth European Tour Player of the Year award and a probable Ryder Cup return, he admits.
The first of Westwood’s occasional and brief career slumps almost caused him to quit at just 26, he recalled.
“There’s been many times where I thought I couldn’t stand this game,” he said. “I remember thinking about retiring at the age of 26 – I must have thought I was George Best!
“Eventually it comes down to just loving the game. I’ve had eight days without hitting balls right now and I’m itching to go and practice already. I don’t feel like a 47-year-old, I feel like a 25-year-old.”
The mental enthusiasm is the key, he says, to his longevity and competitiveness now, having won the Player of the Year award first as far back as 1998, when the motivation of a careers officer meeting at school was still driving him.
“I went to see the careers officer at 16 and the options he gave me were the Bachelor’s pea factory or the sandwich factory,” he recalled. “I just fancied being a golfer a little bit more, so I worked hard at it.
Keeping the mental enthusiasm
“Why can’t you still play well at 47 or 48? It’s keeping the mental enthusiasm to want to go and do an hour on the bike or in the gym, or a couple of hours on the chipping green when you don’t feel like it.
“I know it will benefit me somewhere down the line, maybe not in Abu Dhabi in a few weeks’ time, maybe not at The Masters in April, but it might benefit me at The Open Championship or U.S. Open.
“You have to see the big picture and do the little things that help it come together in the big tournaments at the right times.”
Westwood clearly wants to create a new finish to his Ryder Cup career, his last playing experience being a painful won at Hazeltine in 2016, but he has the experience to know not to reach for it.
“I won’t do anything different to what I normally do,” he said. “Lads make the mistake of trying to qualify for The Ryder Cup. They should try and play well each week and if they do they are good enough to get into the team.
The other side of the coin
“If I qualify for the team, I’d be delighted. But I’ve seen the other side of the coin. I’ve been a vice Captain and I’d be delighted to be involved that way.
“There’s no pressure on me. It goes without saying that you want to be playing, but to be involved is special as well.
“I’ve already pencilled that week in, I’ll be there in some sort of capacity. It’d be nice to be hitting the ball, but if I’m not, I’m not.”
There are no targets for 2021, other than to be prepared for every week that counts.
“Targets, for me, are what I’ve done at half nine this morning, going to the gym and working on my fitness.
“You can’t turn up at majors and say ‘I’m going to win this week’. You turn up and say ‘I’ve done all the preparation I could do’.
“The build-up to The Masters doesn’t start with the run of tournaments in March. It starts on the bike, on the weight bench in the middle of last year.
‘A constant job’
“It’s an on-going preparation. I want to be as ready for Abu Dhabi, when I’m defending, as I want to be for The Masters in April or The Open in July. It’s a constant job.”
What would he say to the young 26-year-old contemplating retirement – and only a year away from his first Order of Merit title – two decades on?
“Don’t take it too seriously,” he said. “Take responsibility for your own game more, be your own boss.
“Don’t listen to too many opinions. Just enjoy it as much as you can, because that 20 years will be gone quickly.”