True measure of Lee Westwood’s value to golf

For so long, a golfer’s career was measured by how many majors they won.

Down the stretch: Lee Westwood reacts after making a putt on the 16th hole during the final round of The Players Championship. Picture: AP Photo/Gerald Herbert
Down the stretch: Lee Westwood reacts after making a putt on the 16th hole during the final round of The Players Championship. Picture: AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

When you are Tiger Woods and you have won 15 of them that’s fine.

Or Annika Sorenstam, who was victorious 10 times, or Ernie Els who earned four.

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But for every Freddie Couples or Jim Furyk, who only won one despite years at the very top of the game, there is a Ben Curtis or a Todd Hamilton, a Shaun Micheel or a Pernilla Lindberg, who took one of the big pots but never really did anything else.

Then there are those who have never won a major, whose many other achievements are overshadowed by the one omission.

Colin Montgomerie was eight times European No 1, went undefeated in Ryder Cup singles contests and was a runner-up six times in majors but because he never breasted the tape at the Masters, US Open, Open or PGA, he was forever labelled the best player to never win a major.

Lee Westwood has carried a similar moniker for years. Indeed at 84 attempts, no-one has contested more without winning in the present day than the Worksop professional.

But as he has reaffirmed over the last two weeks at Bay Hill and then at Sawgrass, he is still very much involved at the sharp end of golf.

At the age of 47, dualling with players nearly half his age, and nearly a quarter of a century after the first of his 44 professional worldwide wins, that is his greatest legacy.

The fact he has never won a major should just be a footnote. If anything, when you look at all Westwood has accomplished, it makes it folly to judge a player’s career through the prism of mere major victories.

Westwood is so much more. His first professional win came in Sweden on the European Tour 25 years ago this summer. His most recent was 14 months ago in Abu Dhabi.

He will make a record-equalling 11th Ryder Cup appearance in September and has topped the European Order of Merit in three different decades, a feat unequalled even by the likes of Nick Faldo and Seve Ballesteros. He also reached the status of world No 1 a decade ago.

For length of career at the very top, there is no-one to match Westwood in Europe while in America, just Woods and Phil Mickelson have stuck around for a quarter of a century.

Granted, there is the lack of a major win, and for as well as he played the last two weeks, he still did not win. But he did not lose the Arnold Palmer Invitational or the Players Championship, he was beaten to them by Bryson DeChambeau and Justin Thomas, respectively, two golfers in their prime.

Age caught up with him, he was almost ashamed to admit on Sunday night. The legs started to feel heavy on Saturday and the swing let him down at crucial moments.

But Westwood was still there, still fighting, still introducing his competitive spirit to a younger audience and reminding those who have been watching him for over a generation now that there is life in the old dog yet.

A final thought on how nice it was to see fans back at Sawgrass.

Only 20 per cent, mind, and it will not be long before the ‘get in the hole’ brigade make us yearn for the serenity of behind closed doors, but golf has missed its spectators like all sports.

The players will have, too, particularly someone like Westwood, feeding off the energy of the crowd.

Watching him at the business end with fans cheering and jeering, it was just like old times. The true measure of Westwood’s value to golf.

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