SOUTHPORT, England – Lee Westwood faced the media Monday at Royal Birkdale, but the topic of discussion didn’t focus on this week’s British Open. At least, not right away.
Westwood recently split with agent Chubby Chandler and his ISM agency. The breakup of the 24-year relationship caught many golf observers off guard.
After his practice round, Westwood faced about 20 journalists gathered near the 18th green to speak with the Englishman. Westwood, 44, a former No. 1-ranked player, owns 40 worldwide victories, but he is 0-for-77 in major championships, with 18 top 10s. The interview proved to be less than forthcoming, but it provides insight behind the scenes of golf’s 146th Open.
MEDIA MEMBER: Obviously, this is a bit of a strange one this week in the sense that you're going into a major with a completely different management setup. First chance we have had to hear from you. What is there to say?
LEE WESTWOOD: Basically nothing. It's a personal matter, and I'm not going to comment on it.
MM: But from a golfing perspective?
LW: From a golfing perspective, it's the best tournament of the year, The Open Championship. It's in England, but it is probably the best links course in Britain. Be great playing in front of English crowds, British crowds, as it always is every year. Hopefully the weather will stay like this. Memorable opens when it's fantastic weather, and I'm looking forward to playing and playing well, hopefully.
MM: People will look at it and wonder how unsettling it might be to be going into an Open Championship having obviously had such a long relationship with your former management company.
LW: I'm not unsettled. I'm pleased with where my swing is. My short game's good. Come back to a golf course I love playing, so I've played well along this coast before and just looking forward to it this year.
MM: Will there be any issues in terms of trying to concentrate on the job at hand?
LW: No, I don't think so. I'm pretty good at focusing.
MM: This wasn't a rash decision, Lee. It's something that's been going on for a while. Why did you do it now?
LW: I'm not able to comment on that. It's a personal matter, as I said earlier.
MM: Well, I understand that …
LW: You can keep putting questions in different ways.
MM: Do you have any concern about the general public wondering how somebody who was so close to Chubby is no longer with him?
LW: I have no concerns over anything, really. I hope the general public turn up to watch me play as a golfer. That's it.
MM: What about the rumors, that there are rumors and …
LW: That's exactly what they are, isn't it? Rumors. There are always going to be rumors. People like to make up stories and come to their own conclusions, and it's unavoidable in any walk of life, so you can't let it bother you.
MM: Is it fair to say that it's in the hands of lawyers?
LW: It's a private matter, and I can't comment on it.
MM: What about your relationship with Darren [Clarke, also a longtime ISM client]? Has that changed?
LW: No, no. Myself and Darren are still good mates. Supposed to play a practice round [Tuesday].
MM: If Chubby were to walk past now, would you feel any embarrassment?
MM: Would you say hello to him?
LW: No comment.
MM: Is it fair to say a friendship has kind of broken down?
LW: It's a personal matter, and I can't comment on that.
MM: Why IMG?
LW: I can't comment on that.
MM: Oh, my God. You can't comment on IMG? That's not anything to do with Chubby.
LW: No, but who is bringing IMG up? Not me. You brought that up. Do they manage you?
MM: No, but they manage you?
LW: You're clearly listening to the rumors that he's talking about.
MM: So, it's not accurate?
LW: I'm not going to comment on it. It's a personal thing.
MM: Are you currently managed by anyone?
LW: That would be a personal matter, which I'm not going to comment on. I'm here to talk about golf and The Open Championship.
MM: As a matter of interest, what did you think we were going to ask you?
LW: I thought you were going to ask me how I was playing and how I was swinging and what I thought of the golf course, like you always do. You come up with the same boring questions all the time. This is completely out of the norm.
MM: Is there anything we missed, Lee?
LW: I don't think so. No. I'm carrying a bit of a cold but otherwise healthy, so, yeah, looking forward to playing this week, obviously.
MM: What will you play the next two days?
LW: Have a practice round [Tuesday] morning. Probably off about 10 o'clock.
MM: Nine or 18?
LW: 18. And then just play it by ear really on Wednesday with the weather. There's a poor forecast for a bit of thunderstorms. I actually don't do much on a Wednesday; I'll maybe play nine holes. It's always nice to play nine sort of the Wednesday afternoon because it's the closest the course gets to playing in the tournament. With me having such a late tee-off time, 3 o'clock and early on Thursday, I will likely play in the afternoon on Wednesday, but the golf course, if it rains, the golf course will change completely, won't it, from the way I played it today to the way I play it Wednesday or Thursday morning.
MM: How wide open do you feel your window is to win this championship?
LW: I don't know. I'm still hitting the ball as good as I always have. I'm 44, and you think a little bit differently as you get older, but hopefully I can think a bit more wisely and use a bit of cunning and guile on the golf course.
MM: Do you have a lot of cunning and guile?
LW: I have plenty, yes, stored up.
MM: You're the guy usually that the English pin their hopes on in the Open, but it seems like Tommy Fleetwood is the guy this year?
LW: Yeah, Tommy's been playing great. He's played some brilliant golf this year, and he's obviously local to this area and will have played Birkdale a lot, so, yeah. I think that Tommy keeps playing the way he's playing, he's got a great chance of getting into contention and then obviously, you see what you do on Sunday and Sunday afternoon.
MM: 40-year-olds winning this three years in a row, with Phil [Mickelson, in 2013], Darren [Clarke, in 2011] and Ernie [Els, in 2012], is that going to give you a little extra?
LW: Yeah, I think so. Obviously, one of the closest times I've come to winning was at Turnberry [T-3 in 2009], and Tom [Watson] lost in a playoff. What was he, 59? Yeah, so and last time it was all around here. Greg Norman [T-3 at age 53 in 2008] made a run, didn't he? So, I think links golf, if you use me to compare this to the U.S. Open, then I think the U.S. Open course [Erin Hills] was a kind of a bomber's-style golf course; I thought they had a big advantage there. But this golf course I think brings a lot more players into it. The Open Championship always does, with the weather and the way the golf course plays. There's a lot more run out there, and you’ve got to think your way around it.
MM: How does this course compare to the last time you were here?
LW: Weather was poor, if I remember right. Just about everyone was struggling. It was just a get-it-around type of thing. I think over par [Padraig Harrington, at 3 over] won it. So that shows how tricky it was. But this is a such a well-designed golf course. You can play it well in any conditions. It holds up. It gives you chances, and, obviously, there's some brutally tough holes out there, as well.
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: email@example.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli