The question was legitimate if not original, and, depressingly for Lee Westwood, it had been put before. It was an attempt to determine the level of concern following the passing of another major without a victory in his 40th year. Westwood answered first with a contemptuous roll of the eyes before adding a dismissive, "who let him in?"
Banter is Westwood's default mode. It allows him to punch back without appearing rude. The world No 4 left Lytham disappointed but not crushed. On Thursday, he heads for the United States for a five-week stretch that begins with the final WGC event of the year, the Bridgestone Invitational, followed by the season's last major, the US PGA at Kiawah Island. Thereafter the lucrative FedEx Cup finale beckons.
The immersion in America is effectively a dry run for a new life that begins in Florida after Christmas. His home in Worksop is on the market, yours for £3 million. The Westwood clan are off, lock, stock and barrel. It is a definitive move that effectively announces the final push towards the big prizes. Turning 40 is not the stake through the heart it once was. The resurgence of Ernie Els, an Open champion at 42, is proof of that. Last year Darren Clarke, above, won his first major at the same age.
The trick is not to couch it that way. Of course he wants to win a major. He acknowledges the significance of the achievement, but he is also aware that talking about it endlessly will not improve his chances. The reverse is true. There is too much thinking time in golf as it is. Westwood is trying to simplify rather than complicate his approach in this phase of his career. So when asked if there is a mental step he needs to take to win a major, the answer was a flat "no".
"I feel pretty calm in the major championships. I had a lot of good chances and nearly won quite a few. You certainly need a bit more luck at the Open Championship with the draw. But that didn't really come into play this week. Overall, it is probably the hardest of the four to win. It just didn't happen for me this time. It is just one of those things. You play golf long enough you get used to it. Rarely do I get in bad moods."
It is all about looking forward for him. And that means America. "We've been thinking about it for a couple of years now," Westwood said. "I'm not doing it for the sake of it. Any time you move your family from one place to another is a big decision. We're obviously moving a long way but everybody is excited about it. I think playing over there on the courses all the time and with those kind of practice facilities and the right kind of weather should have a big effect, considering three of the four majors are played there."
Luke Donald spent yesterday in London with his club supplier Mizuno before heading back to his Chicago home. The world No 1 carries about his person the same majorless baggage as Westwood. But at 32 the load is not as heavy. His top-five finish at Lytham represented his best at any Open. The improvement resulted, he believes, from a diminution in intensity. The desire to win is so great he has fallen into over-thinking the issue.
The key, he says, is to treat a major like any other event. "Sometimes I get a little bit too uptight, a little bit anxious. But I have that choice to smile or not. Sometimes you have to fake it, sometimes it's real. But I felt a lot more comfortable in terms of my game coming into this week as opposed to the US Open. I worked hard on my long game, spent a lot more time on the range. That helps. I felt comfortable in terms of my game and I was able to go out and enjoy it a little bit more. You do learn a lot by playing poorly like I did at the US Open and not living up to my expectations. I didn't do a good job on the mental side so this week was a huge improvement in terms of that and I'll use that going forward."
The third member of the British triumvirate at the top of the world order, Rory McIlroy, is coming to terms with another lost weekend at a major. Each time he tees it up, McIlroy is measured against his US Open win last year. That can bring its own difficulties as he heads towards the climax of the season. "The thing for me is to stay patient. If it doesn't happen over the next couple of weeks, no big deal. It's a 20-year career, so I'm not going to get too wound-up over a few weeks. I've got to keep working, plugging away, working hard and working on the right things and eventually it will come around."Reuse content