An admitted slow starter, Lee Westwood was as surprised as anyone when at age 46 he won the first tournament of the year on the European Tour, the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It made him the only active player on the tour to have won in four different decades.
“Historically I’ve been the type of player who had to play his way into form,” he said. “I threw that out of the window in winning the first event. It just surprised me.”
Within two months of that hot start, the strangest year in golf began. The Covid-19 pandemic shut down the main golf tours for months. When professional golf resumed in the spring, it surged in popularity, as one of the few live sports on television.
But the pandemic made the travel necessary to be at the top of the international game tough. And Westwood’s career has been a global one. Including his 25 victories on the European Tour, Westwood has 44 worldwide wins, with 12 in Asia, three in South Africa, two in the United States and one in Australia. In more than 800 tournaments on the two major tours, the PGA and the European, he has made the cut more than 80 percent of the time.
And going into this week’s DP World Tour Championship, Dubai, he is ranked fourth in points in the Race to Dubai, the yearlong points race to determine the best player on the European Tour.
The following interview has been edited and condensed.
In addition to winning the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, your play at the majors has been solid. You had a great start at the Masters this year, tied for 13th at the United States Open and tied for fourth at the last British Open. What do you attribute that continued strong play?
I’m just still keen to work. It’s putting in the hard work that leads up to the tournament. Everyone gets excited to play in a tournament. I think people lose the drive to get to that point. I’m still fit and strong. It’s not like I’ve lost my length. When you look at it analytically, there’s no reason I shouldn’t play well. I have experience on my side. Majors take a slightly different approach. You have to think your way around the golf course a little bit more. Par means a lot more. For me at a U.S. Open or Open Championship, it’s plotting your way around a golf course. It plays into my game.
You’ve been a global player for decades. What was traveling for tournaments like this year?
Well, it was dictated by the pandemic. We were in lockdown March, April and May. Up until September, I didn’t feel comfortable going too far. I went to Europe, and I didn’t fancy going too far until I got a picture of how things were. The U.S. Open [at Winged Foot in Mamaroneck, N.Y.] was the first time I went over to the States. When your job is traveling through all these time zones, that really goes out the window.
How important is playing around the world to a player’s development?
You become much more well-rounded as a person. You need to play on different courses, different grasses, different greens. It can be part of your development as a player. At the end of the day, what people want to see is the top players playing together more often in the same tournaments. It’s all right seeing everyone play in the States. That’s where the cash is. But I think we should have tournaments in Australia, South Africa, South America where all the great players come together. The pandemic has shown that golf isn’t broken. It doesn’t need fixing. It just needs sharing around the world.
Your 2020 season is ending in Dubai, with seven tournaments in the United States and 14 on the European Tour. How would you sum up this year for you and other global players?
It’s very difficult to sit back and do an appraisal of it. There were five months off in the middle of it where I just sat around, really. Then I played a lot in Europe, not too successfully. I played well in the U.S. Open. It’s been a weird one. One of the good things that came out of it is I lost 12 kilos [about 26 pounds]. I’ll be fitter going into next season. I’ll take a month off after Dubai and start again in Abu Dhabi.