In his latest column, Westwood talks about his past Ryder Cup experiences and looks ahead to the 2018 event.
Lee Westwood: The Ryder Cup Is The Best Event in Golf
I can’t quite believe how quickly the Ryder Cup has come around and I’m thoroughly looking forward to the matches at Le Golf National. I have so many incredible memories from what I believe is the best event in golf and I can still remember my first shot vividly. It’s a very nerve-racking moment!
My debut came at Valderrama in 1997 and I was playing with Nick Faldo, who was competing in the event for the 11th time. That calmed my nerves to a point, but then I realised Seve Ballesteros was looking on and I was playing against Brad Faxon and Fred Couples, players I’d admired for years, not to mention the massive crowds and people watching on TV. I think my opening drive went down the middle, but I honestly can’t remember – I was just so pleased to make contact with the ball!
I’ve been involved in a lot of good matches over the years. One that stands out is when Darren Clarke and I beat Tiger and Phil at Oakland Hills in 2004. We were 3 down after three holes and right up against it but we fought back and secured a 1up victory on the final green.
Another one that springs to mind was playing with Nicolas Colsaerts in the Friday afternoon four-balls at Medinah against Tiger and Steve Stricker. That was a sit, watch and admire job! It was Nicolas’ first ever Ryder Cup match and he shot ten-under away from home. It was remarkable!
The best I’ve played in would have to be Medinah in 2012. Coming back from that far behind is probably never going to be repeated. When Poulter holed that putt late on Saturday afternoon, we went from thinking it was a Ryder Cup we weren’t going to win to believing we had a genuine chance. It switched the momentum completely in our favour.
I’ve been fortunate to play during Europe’s best ever stretch and have been on the winning side seven times. I’m often asked to explain our recent dominance and I always come back to team ethic and bonding – I think that’s spurred us on and led to some fantastic performances on the course. There’s also no doubt we’ve developed more quality players since the era of Seve, Faldo and Langer. Maybe that’s down to the fact Europeans tend to play all over the world, so their games become more complete, allowing them to deal with different courses and conditions.
This time around, I’m a vice-captain. We’re constantly communicating with each other, meeting up at tournaments and running ideas by each other. Our minds are definitely on it and have been for a while. Thomas is keen to use us as a sounding board – he’s very much in favour of a team approach. Ultimately, there’s no point having vice-captains if you’re not going to use their ideas and experience and listen to what they have to say. I’ve been very impressed with what I’ve seen from Thomas so far.
Related: Ryder Cup Vice-Captains Announced
There’s no doubt in my mind that Le Golf National is going to be a great venue. It’s definitely been built for the accurate golfer. It’s quite a tight course, there’s trouble if you miss fairways and the greens aren’t massive, so you have to be in control of the ball. It’s not a layout you can overpower with the driver, and from a European point of view we have a number of players whose games are built around accuracy, so that bodes well.
A lot of our team have played there a number of times, too. Some people say course experience doesn’t really matter, but I think it’s a big factor. Some prospective American team members went to play a couple of practice rounds before The Open, which in itself tells you that it’s beneficial. The crowds will also be a factor, too. That home support is good for your spirits and a huge advantage.
We say before every Ryder Cup that it’s shaping up to be one of the best ever, but it definitely feels that way this time around. Honestly, I don’t know how the last day at Medinah can ever be surpassed, but you never know. I hope we don’t need a Sunday comeback like that! In terms of who will perform well, I think Justin Rose will have a very good Ryder Cup. He’s become a fantastic player and I think he’ll get to World No.1. He’s extremely polished, tough to beat in match play, his record is very good and you can pair him with anyone.
And we have to talk about Open Champion Francesco Molinari. He’s been the best player in the world over the last couple of months and, honestly, if you were to draw up a blueprint of a player to suit Le Golf National, it’d be him. I can’t wait to get to France and I think Europe will win back the Ryder Cup.
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