Monday, June 18, 2012


By James Corrigan, at the Olympic Club, San Francisco
Lee Westwood has heard the cheers and felt the warmth. That is why he is turning his back on his home town of Worksop for the sunshine of Florida.
On Sunday night, there was the little matter of the US Open occupying his focus as he attempted to become the first English winner of a major in 16 years.
But before setting out on the treacherous Olympic track he explained the reasons for the move. After years of what he calls “ambivalence”, Westwood has finally been seduced by the States.
“It’s fair to say I’ve grown to love playing in America,” said Westwood, talking about the life change for the first time.
“It’s amazing how much support I’ve been having out there. On every hole there’s fans chanting ‘Go Westy’ or ‘Come on Lee’. I used to be ambivalent about playing over here but you change; you learn to know what you want.”
Not so long ago, Westwood did not really want America. He resigned his membership of the PGA Tour and opted not to play the 2011 Players Championship.
He shunned the chance to win $10 million at the FedEx Cup, saying that he “would prefer to be on holiday with the kids” rather than compete in the end-of-season play-offs.
But then he watched Luke Donald come so close to winning the FedEx in 2010 and last year declared that he wanted a piece of that action – this season he would sign back up. Now it is case of in for $10 million, leave behind the pound. So a few days after Christmas, West Palm will welcome another famous resident.
“It’s hard to practise when you want to practise in the UK,” said Westwood, the latest weather report from Worksop only strengthening his conviction.
“Yes, it’s a big decision but I haven’t got that much time left at the top, and I want to give myself the best chance of staying there as long as I can. I can see us spending the next five to 10 years in America.”
The mansion in Worksop is on the market and the school forms for Sam (11) and Poppy (8) have been completed. “The rest of the family are really excited about the move,” said the 39 year-old. “My kids are outdoor kids and I want them to enjoy an outdoor lifestyle. They’re also the right age school-wise.”
Westwood had intended to keep the transatlantic switch under wraps until after the majors, but now it is public knowledge the American public will only take him further into their hearts.
There has been plenty of support here for Westwood, as signified by the roar which accompanied his fist-pump when holing a 35-footer for birdie on the 18th on Saturday evening.
It was a rare show of emotion from Westwood, who has deliberately been keeping a lid on his emotions. It is the old golfing conundrum of trying not to care when the event meant everything. Except Westwood claims it did not mean everything any more. “If it happens, it happens,” he said.
A fresh approach for a fresh start for Westwood. “I’m not taking it too seriously,” he said. “After you’ve been doing it for 20 seasons out here, I think that it’s time to relax and give yourself a break and enjoy it.
“You’ve only got to look at people’s faces out there - they’re looking pretty wound up and stressed, aren’t they? There aren’t many smiles. Which is a shame because it’s one of the biggest tournaments of the year and one I would assume everybody looks forward to.”
Perhaps it was all easier said than done for Westwood. The man who had chalked up seven top-threes in his previous 15 majors was in contention again; the lifetime ambition was back in tantalising focus. He was three shots behind the leaders, Jim Furyk and Graeme McDowell. For the latter, this had been such a welcome return to form.
McDowell had missed his previous three cuts and was a frustrated figure as he searched for the form of 2010, when he won his US Open and was the match-winning hero of the Ryder Cup.
His manager, Conor Ridge, noticed an immediate change of mood in McDowell in San Francisco. “He’s had that same look about him as he did at Pebble [Beach],” said Ridge. “It was like there’s been an aura around him.”
The US Open does that to McDowell, a scrapper blessed with the fighting instinct and scrambling powers to cope in this most demanding of golfing arenas.
On Sunday night, the clubhouses in Portrush, his hometown, were packed as Northern Ireland waited to see whether their small country could win their third US Open in succession and their third major from the last five.
At the very least McDowell’s swagger back into the spotlight has ensured that next week’s Irish Open will have yet more hype.
Royal Portrush will host Northern Ireland’s first big professional tournament in 59 years and, with the likes of McDowell, Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke in the field, plus, of course Padraig Harrington, tickets for the weekend have become precious indeed.



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