Why Lee Westwood needs to embrace sports psychology

Golf can be a very cruel game and never was that demonstrated more than during last week’s Ryder Cup at Hazeltine where Europe’s most decorated (active) Ryder Cup player Lee Westwood was humbled when missing an 18-inch putt on Saturday in front of a global audience.

Why Lee Westwood needs to embrace sports psychology

Westwood, as 42 pro career victories on five different continents — Europe, North America, Asia, Africa and Australia would suggest, is very much a member of golf’s true aristocracy.

Commonly referred to as being the best active golfer never to have won a major, Westwood, the 10-time Ryder Cup player and former world number one ranked golfer, entered last week with all of the headlines firmly focused on his pursuit of Nick Faldo’s points-scoring record but by the end, most were instead wondering if the 41st Ryder Cup was simply a “bridge too far”.

His role in the team last week was two-fold. The first to add on course experience to a largely inexperienced team and the second to use his consistent game and experience to shepherd some of the younger rookies like Thomas Pieters, safely through their first Ryder Cup experience.

In the end he delivered neither — as his form deserted him highlighted in no small way by the missed birdie putt on the final green on Saturday for a halved match and the loss of his final three holes and his match to Ryan Moore on Sunday.

For a proud man somewhat used to missed opportunities on the biggest stage, this would have been yet another crushing blow — so he now has to embrace his press conferences for the foreseeable future being dominated by an endless set of awkward questions such as: Was that your last Ryder Cup? If you were in the same position again next time would you allow your name to go forward as a captain’s pick? What can you do to improve your putting? Are you seeing a psychologist? If so what advice is he giving you?

First of all, let’s put things in perspective.

Lee Westwood had an uncharacteristically poor week with his long game — one that, when on form, is still really only rivaled from tee to green by the very best in the game. For all of their statistical analysis, the European selectors stand guilty of knowing without his long game Westwood was uncompetitive — as he cannot compete with his short game alone in the way that say Phil Mickelson might be able to. That fact therefore made him unselectable, in my opinion, on Saturday afternoon but the error of their judgment was only fully realised once Westwood missed that short putt on the 18th hole. At that time, there were no need for words. Westwood’s expression said it all. In that moment the Ryder Cup had been lost.

For Westwood who has suffered from more than 20 years playing golf with all its twists and turns of fate, this was perhaps one of his cruelest blows but golf does that.

It mentally pushes you to the limit but whereas Westwood most often has only left himself down, last week, he would have felt that he had left his whole team down and that will have hurt him even more. The question on most peoples’ minds now is where does he go from here, as he still has so much to offer.

Much like McIlroy in recent months, he has to face down this challenge and he will only do that by comprehensively addressing the most fallible part of his game, his putting, while recognising all players have different strengths.

His lies in his golf from tee to green, so statistically he doesn’t have to be as strong around the greens, as say Mickelson does, so instead of being intimidated by the thought process his opponents are all sinking putts from everywhere (which they aren’t) and allowing his confidence to be undermined, he has to believe his own strengths are still good enough.

Golf’s greatest negativity at times is that it gives the player almost too much time to think, too much time to analyse what has gone wrong and too much time to get their mind involved in what they are trying to do so sports psychology counts now more than ever, as it will help him to compartmentalise his thoughts, by way of keeping them focused on the matter at hand.

It can provide Westwood with things like tension relievers and different ways of looking at and focusing on things. It will help but only if Westwood first believes in its potential. That’s the hardest part but at this stage in his career what else has Westwood got to lose.

On the other hand he has plenty to gain and I think he knows this so I fully expect him now to embrace change by way of helping him to remain competitive for many years to come.

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Wednesday, December 1, 2021

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