Westwood finishes a year driven by change
This has been a season of big change for Lee Westwood, and his debut last week in the Shark Shootout was an example.
He typically is on the other side of the world this time of the year, having won the Nedbank Challenge in South Africa in 2011 and 2012, and the Thailand Golf Championship two years ago. But this marks one year since Westwood moved his family from England to Florida to take it easy on the jet lag and allow for more practice in warm weather.
He ended the year without a win anywhere in the world.
Westwood, a two-time Order of Merit winner on the European Tour, attributed his results to change, though that entails more than location. He also began working with Sean Foley. He had a new caddie for most of the year until reuniting this month with Billy Foster.
Asked what held him back this year, Westwood chalked it up to the “lack of continuity.”
“So many changes, really,” he said as he headed into the final month of his season. “It’s impossible to quantify the effect that has. Starting with a new coach, changing tours, changing caddies the end of last year, all of it has an effect.”
He also said there were struggles with consistency in his swing. Westwood had a close call at Quail Hollow, and he had the lead going into the final round of the British Open, which was won by Phil Mickelson more than anyone lost it.
“I haven’t been settled in a swing all year,” Westwood said. “When you’re a professional, you can have good results without hitting it well. I haven’t had a week where I hit it properly. I didn’t even hit it well in the Open. I just know how to get around and I putted well.”
Westwood turned 40 this year, and while he dropped to No. 25 in the world after starting at No. 7, he believes that will turn. More changes are planned for 2014, but only as it relates to his travel schedule. Instead of starting in Middle East, he doesn’t expect to play regular European Tour events until May.
He is thinking of playing Torrey Pines, the Phoenix Open and Riviera on the West Coast swing.
FATHER & SON: Except for having the 54-hole lead and contending at the British Open, one of the best moments for Lee Westwood this year was playing with his father in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
Graeme McDowell will experience that in February.
McDowell and his father, Kenny, will be partners at Pebble Beach. It’s the first time they have been there since 2010, when McDowell won the U.S. Open and his father said to him on the 18th green that Sunday, “You’re something, kid.”
Asked for his favorite memory of his father, McDowell went back to his roots in Northern Ireland when he was too young to play the Dunluce course at Royal Portrush.
“Until you’re 15 years old or have a 15-handicap, you play the Valley Course,” he said. “I remember sneaking out with my dad on a summer’s evening on the Dunluce course when I was not eligible to be out there, sneaking out there for a few holes one summer evening and feeling like I was literally at Augusta National. Those are special times.”
THE GULBIS PRANK: In the January issue of “Golf Digest,” Michelle Wie writes a series of tales that includes her first Kraft Nabisco Championship at age 13. And it shows why there’s always more to Natalie Gulbis than might appear.
Wie said that on the fifth hole she put a new golf ball into play. She mentioned this to Gulbis on the sixth fairway.
“She stops me and gives me a look of shock,” Wie wrote. “‘You can’t do that out here,’ she says. ‘That’s a two-stroke penalty. You need to go back to the tee.’ I was speechless, on the verge of tears. Just as I turned to start walking back to the tee, Natalie said, ‘Just kidding.’”
OH, BROTHER: Dustin Johnson took his younger brother, Austin, to Scotland twice as his partner in the Dunhill Links Championship. He brought him to China last month for the HSBC Champions as his caddie, and Johnson won his first World Golf Championship.
Now they’ll be spending a lot more time together.
Johnson has decided to keep his little brother on the bag for next year, replacing Bobby Brown. Austin Johnson played basketball at Charleston Southern before transferring to the College of Charleston to finish his degree.
“I was getting my resume together,” Austin said.
Big brother jokingly said he never bothered to look at the resume and “probably wouldn’t have believed it, anyway.”
“Having my brother on the bag has been cool. I love it,” Johnson said. “He’s my brother. I like having him out here. And we do good.”
SNEAD AUCTION: The second part of the Sam Snead Collection at Heritage Auctions brought in more than $750,000 this month in Dallas, with the biggest item his 1949 Masters Trophy that went for $143,400.
Snead’s captain’s trophy from the 1969 Ryder Cup sold for $131,450, while his Wanamaker Trophy from winning the 1949 PGA Championship and his championship medal from winning the 1946 British Open at St. Andrews went for $101,575 each.
Among the more intriguing items was a collection of 3,545 signed personal checks. That drew $34,058. The first auction in July was held in Chicago by Heritage Auctions and brought in $1.1 million. Those lots included his 1954 Masters trophy and the claret jug from St. Andrews.
DIVOTS: More than a year after Europe’s stunning comeback to win the Ryder Cup at Medinah, Graeme McDowell still has not watched video of the final day. “That might be on my to-do list,” he said. “I need to sit down and watch that in real time.” ... This year wasn’t the first time a qualifying tournament was held exclusively for the Web.com Tour. According to the PGA Tour, four weeks before the launch of the Ben Hogan Tour, 132 players competed in Florida over 72 holes with the low 35 players and ties getting cards. The medalist that week? John Daly. ... Kevin Tway received a sponsor’s exemption to play in the Phoenix Open. ... Vijay Singh is shopping for a new equipment deal after nearly 15 years with Cleveland Golf. ... Ernie Els has signed an endorsement deal with Ecco. He was wearing the shoes for most of the year without a deal. ... Anthony Kim, who last played in the 2012 the Wells Fargo Championship, ended last year at No. 300 in the world. He ends this year at No. 1,488.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Tiger Woods, Adam Scott, Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy were the only players who stayed in the top 10 in the world ranking the entire year.
FINAL WORD: “The beauty about golf is it takes all shapes and sizes. But it’s a hell of a lot more of an athletic game than it used to be 10 years ago.” — Graeme McDowell.