Westwood: Golf is not my main priority, my kids are
Published 08/10/2015 | 02:30
The last time the British Masters was staged, in 2008, Lee Westwood was unlucky not to retain his title when losing to Gonzalo Fernández-Castaño on the third play-off hole at the Belfry, but was clearly still on the upward curve which was soon to take him to No 1 in the world.
Seven years on, the event returns to the European Tour schedule at Woburn today with the Englishman piecing his life back together because of a divorce which he believes has left him no option but to quit the PGA Tour.
At 42, Westwood is down in 44th in the world rankings and heading in the wrong direction in a trend which places him in danger of missing out on next year's majors. However, he readily concedes that this is not the pressing issue.
After 16 years of marriage, there has been an irrevocable split and with Laurae and their two children - Sam, 14, and Poppy, 10 - moving from the palatial family home in Palm Beach Gardens back near to her parents in Scotland, Westwood is also returning across the Atlantic. After less than three years, their American dream has ended in heartache and the inevitable recrimination.
For Westwood, his career is secondary. "I've always said I've had priorities and that golf was not the most important thing, but obviously my kids are now," Westwood said.
"I'm moving back to Britain, have given up my PGA Tour membership and, for personal reasons, will play the European Tour predominantly, so I can be where I need to be."
When Westwood left Worksop in December 2012 he was sixth in the world rankings. Despite three wins around the globe in this time, as well as a tie for third in the Open in his enduring quest for a Major, the decline has been pronounced.
"I don't know what it will do my game - I haven't really much thought about it - but living in the States didn't move it in the direction I hoped," Westwood said.
"My ranking has fallen a lot and I need to address that and play well to keep myself in the top 50. I do still believe I can get back up there."
But as Notah Begay, the former PGA Tour winner, said when his friend Tiger Woods was going through his divorce - "it's hard to compete when all you can hear in your head is slamming doors".
Westwood would concur. "It's no surprise my game's suffered this year," he said. "We know that so much of golf is mental and there's been a lot going on that has affected me in the mind."
Westwood is honest enough to admit that the hunger to scale the mountain will not be as stark it was before.
And, as evidence of a new perspective, he is even prepared to talk about the possibility of missing out on Ryder Cup qualification. He would never have done that before, particularly with his great friend Darren Clarke at the helm at Hazeltine next year.
"I won't lie - golf doesn't mean as much to me now as it did, say, five years ago," Westwood said. "Yet I am still prepared to graft at it. As far as the Ryder Cup goes, well, obviously I've played in nine in a row and want to keep that going. It's the biggest buzz we get from any tournament.
"But if I'm not involved as a player then I'd like to be in the backroom. I'd like to help out Darren, with a view to being the captain down the road."
Padraig Harrington and Shane Lowry are among an eight-strong Irish contingent at Woburn.
Graeme McDowell, Michael Hoey, Paul Dunne, Niall Kearney and Darren Carke will all feature, as will Damian McGrane, who is still fighting to retain his Tour card. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
Live, Sky Sports 4, 9.00