Close Connections

April 11, 2016

Sunderland AFC player and Middlesbrough FC U13 coach Steve Harper talks to one of England’s greatest ever golfers, Lee Westwood, about his preparations for this month’s Masters, his move to the European Tour and his links with the North East

Lee Westwood OBE has 42 professional career wins worldwide to date, and has recorded top three finishes in all four major golf tournaments, including the runner-up position at the Masters in 2010. He is also associated with Close House golf club, right here in the North East. I caught up with him ahead of a busy period leading into the first major of the season.

S: It’s the Masters very soon and given your excellent recent record of four top ten places in the last six years, how are the preparations going?
L: To be honest, I haven’t played much! Augusta is a tough course but I’ve played well in the past, having found a way to get around the course and nearly winning in 2010. The greens are its main defence but I’m hoping for another good week.

S: When did you start playing golf?
L: My dad loved fishing but I wasn’t too keen, so once, he suggested we go and play golf at the local municipal with some clubs my grandparents had bought me. I was about 12 or 13 at the time, which would be considered quite late to start playing nowadays, but I really took to it.

S: With such a long and successful career to date, what are your highlights?
Every Ryder Cup has been a great experience. To twice win the European Tour Order of Merit, now Race to Dubai (2000 and 2009) – given the strength of the Tour – were also highlights. Also, to be world number one for six months (2010-11) and be seen as the best golfer at the time was a very special.

S: Can you enjoy being world number one or does it just increase the pressure?
L: You try to enjoy it but then you also know that everyone is gunning for you. You have to work really hard to try to stay out in front.

S: I’ve read recently that you’re looking to play more in Europe? What are the main differences between the two main tours?
L: Yes, I’ve given up my US Tour card. I’ll still play the majors and World Golf Championship events but I’m going to concentrate on the European Tour.
I’d say that the standard of the two tours is very similar to be honest. There’s more money available on the US Tour and the courses are probably of a better standard mainly due to the weather, but the European Tour gives you the opportunity to travel the world as opposed to being predominately in the US.

S: Through your association with Close House Golf Club you’re spending more time in our region. What do you like most about the North East?
L: Newcastle is a great city and the people are very friendly and have been very welcoming. My link up at Close House comes at an exciting time for the club as we’re very hopeful of getting the British Masters next year and the courses continue to improve as they get more established.

S: It’s the Ryder Cup later this year; what do you think of Europe’s chances and are you hoping to play?
L: I think it’ll be close again but the European team will be strong. Darren [Clarke] will make a great captain but it’ll be harder being in the US. There’ll be lots of youngsters on both sides and, as ever, it’ll be great to watch. For me, I’m having a few weeks off after the Masters so I’ll need play more often afterwards and find some form to be included.

S: How does the dynamic change from being an individual sport to being part of a team at the Ryder Cup?
L: Usually, if you play badly you’re only letting yourself down, whereas in the Ryder Cup not only are you part of a team, and therefore responsible to your team-mates but you’re also representing the whole of Europe. It’s a lot of pressure.

S: What would be your best tips to anyone wanting to take up the game?
L: It’s vitally important to get the basics right by having lessons at the outset. There’s no point standing on a driving range practising the wrong things and developing bad habits that will take time to get rid of.

Steve Harper

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