News & Opinion

Westwood’s advice to U.S.: Man up, boys

BELEK, Turkey – Still basking in their Ryder Cup victory, three of the winning Europeans and their captain are playing in the Turkish Airlines Open this week. While the main plot will be the tournament, which Ireland’s Paul Dunne led after a 7-under 64 on Thursday at Regnum Carya Golf Resort and Spa (scores), two subplots have emerged.

The first: the next Ryder Cup captain, which surely will be Ireland’s Padraig Harrington, who shared second place here after shooting 65 (“Paddy zips to head of line for Europeans,” Oct. 31). The second: whether England’s Justin Rose, the defending champion here and a victorious Ryder Cupper who also held a share of second place at 65, will achieve the world’s No. 1 ranking (“Rose seeks to join rebound club at No. 1,” Nov. 1). He would gain the top spot with a victory this week.

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Lee Westwood, who served as a vice captain during Europe’s recent Ryder Cup victory against the U.S., says the Americans need to do what’s best for the team in their pairings.

But the seven-point thumping that the Europeans handed the Americans five weeks ago in France still has far-reaching effects. The results on and off the course in the suburbs of the French capital have not been fully vetted.

England’s Lee Westwood played on 10 Ryder Cup teams, compiling a 20-18-6 record, and was a vice captain this year. His 44 matches stand second in Europe only to Nick Faldo’s 46.

With those bona fides, Westwood merits some attention for his thoughts on the U.S. collapse.

“I think it makes it harder to pair people up,” said Westwood, a likely choice to be Europe’s captain in 2022 in Rome. He pointed to Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth, who went 2-1-1 as a team for the Americans in their 2016 victory at Hazeltine National. That was before a public fallout and Reed’s displeasure when Spieth was paired with Justin Thomas in France.

“I think good partnerships have always been based on people that get along and that want to play together,” Westwood said. “It's just the way it is. But in this world with 12 people together, they're not all going to get along, are they? So, you have to find some way of fitting characters like Patrick in.”

Westwood conceded that there is no obvious partner for Reed but that the reigning Masters champion is too good of a player not to fit well with somebody. Reed excels at match play, despite an 0-2 record this year with Tiger Woods, but needs a partner with the maturity to deal with Reed’s headstrong reactions, Westwood said. In short, somebody who can put the U.S. team ahead of his own interests.

Two years ago at Hazeltine, European captain Darren Clarke had planned on having Westwood and Danny Willett lead off the Ryder Cup. When Willett’s brother, Pete, called U.S. fans “pudgy, unwashed cretins” in a first-person story written in the U.K.’s National Club Golfer, plans changed.

“I think it derailed his momentum,” Westwood said of Willett, “but not the overall team.”

Westwood and Willett didn’t lead off the Ryder Cup on that opening Friday. In fact, Willett didn’t play until the afternoon four-balls, and he paired with Martin Kaymer in a 5-and-4 loss.

Willett, who played with Westwood only once, went 0-3-0 for the three days.

“You might pair them together for a couple of them and pull them apart for some others,” Westwood said of how to handle the Reed-Spieth issue. “You compromise. There's always a way around things. You’ve got to be mature about these things and realize you're not doing it yourself; you're doing it for your team.”

The team aspect seems to be an increasingly difficult concept for the Americans, who have lost nine of the past 12 Ryder Cups.

Woods and Reed, along with Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka, showed little team support. What they might have provided during the week is unclear, but their record – 3-14-1 combined – spoke volumes.

“So, you’ve got to accommodate somehow,” Westwood said. “And you either do that through picking somebody to play with him or sitting down with one of your big names – not big names; they're all big names at the Ryder Cup – and saying, Look, this is not about you. It's about getting 14 points on Sunday night.”

Ultimately, Reed never played with Spieth and didn’t contribute a point until his singles victory. Meanwhile, Woods and Mickelson earned no points.

“We have thrown names into hats at various Ryder Cups and who people want to play with, and there will be a certain name that's come out and nobody wants to play with him,” Westwood said. “But you’ve got to play. You’ve got to put somebody with him, so you deal with it.”

That’s a valuable lesson for the Americans ahead of the next Ryder Cup. But will they listen?

Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: alex@morningread.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli