Realising the winner’s mentality

Colin Montgomerie and Lee Westwood are two of Europe’s greatest golfers of all time.

Realising the winner’s mentality

Between them, they have won 79 professional tournaments worldwide and have led Europe to many famous victories in the Ryder Cup. They have scaled the heights but for all their efforts, neither has won a WGC event, much less a major championship.

Is it that they just don’t quite have the right combination of talent, heart, mind and weapons to win a major championship? Perhaps we will never know. For Montgomerie, at 49, his quest for a major championship is now virtually over but for Westwood, who turns 40 later this month, it is now or never.

Westwood will have taken some consolation from Darren Clarke’s victory at the British Open in 2011 at the age of 43, but at best he has five years, just 20 majors left, to win one. It will have hurt his own ego to see all the leading Irish players (Harrington, McDowell and McIlroy) win a major before him. He would believe that his career deserves better than just the 13 top-10 finishes in the 59 majors he has competed in to date. If Westwood truly wants his legacy in the game to count, it must include a major.

As if to prove his determination, Westwood has recently moved himself and his family to the US by way of furthering his preparation for the major champion-ships. Florida will give him better practice conditions year round and more regular play on PGA Tour courses which are consistently difficult. This should give him every chance to sharpen his short game skills, so essential if he is to compete with other major winners like Woods, Mickelson and McIlroy.

This week, Colin Montgomerie publicly took a cheap swipe at Westwood’s short game and his ability to win major championships. While there is undoubtedly merit in what Mongomerie said, his timing was wrong and it has forced Westwood out of his own zone to defend himself.

In truth, it would be much too simplistic to say that Westwood’s short game was his sole achilles heel over the years. It may be the most easily identifiable weakness in his game but Westwood himself would be very wise to take time to also address the other key foundation for major championship success — his mental state.

As is the case with most great athletes, the general public will rarely question Westwood’s talent. Instead those hard questions must be asked by “the man in the mirror” himself, and he must be honest in assessing the most fundamental question: why he has been such a prolific winner of mainstream tournaments yet when it has come to major or world championships, his performances are suspect?

If he is honest with himself, he will also have to address the following question: has he sought advice from others who have the experience and knowledge to understand and give credible advice to him, in terms of what it is he is talking about or is he simply surrounded, as is often the case, by cheerleaders and yes men?

His commitment to America suggests that he has a plan. But can he do more? For example, he should look closely at what Rory McIlroy did after his Masters meltdown in 2011. He consulted with major champions Jack Nicklaus and Dave Stockton, people who in their own time had experienced everything that Rory was going through. They only had Rory’s best interests at heart and with it were able to offer him their credible first-hand experience with overcoming setbacks.

As Westwood set out yesterday, I feared his confidence might have been rattled by Montgomerie’s unnecessary comments. I need not have feared. His resilience and maturity meant that he quickly clawed back some early dropped shots and by the time he was playing Amen Corner, he looked composed and focused on the job at hand. In the end, a round of 70 represented a very solid start to his 2013 Masters campaign but Westwood knows too well that there is a long way to go. Undoubtedly he still carries the scars from former battles, but his body language suggests that he is game to embrace all the challenges that Augusta will throw at him this week.

In a perverse way, should Westwood win, Montgomerie’s comments may well have acted as the catalyst that helped him cross that winning line.

For one of the really “good guys” in the professional game, it will have made all his efforts worthwhile.

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