Lee Westwood vows to overhaul Ryder Cup qualifying system if made European captain

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Lee Westwood vows to overhaul European Ryder Cup qualifying system if he's captain in Rome 2023 - GETTY IMAGES
Lee Westwood vows to overhaul European Ryder Cup qualifying system if he's captain in Rome 2023 - GETTY IMAGES

Lee Westwood has vowed to overhaul Europe’s qualifying system if and when he is named Ryder Cup captain for the match in Rome in two years.

Westwood, 48, became the oldest player in the modern era to qualify by right for the biennial dust-up, but did not enjoy his finest hour at Whistling Straits as he lost two out of three matches in the record 19-9 victory for the United States. Yet he did win his Sunday singles to take his collective total to 24 points in 11 appearances and so pass Colin Montgomerie in the all-time points list with only Sir Nick Faldo and Sergio Garcia ahead.

Yet, while he acknowledged that the come-from-behind 18th-hole triumph over Harris English would offer yet more reason to dream of a record 12th match as a player, he conceded: “Next time the Ryder Cup comes around I’ll be 50, and it would be old to be playing Ryder Cup won’t it?

“I assume I’ll get three or four months to think about it, but people keep coming up and saying, ‘Are you going to be the captain in Rome?’ I’d prefer to play but Father Time’s not kind. Obviously, being Ryder Cup captain would be a massive honour.”

It is understood that Europe’s Ryder Cup committee – chaired by financier Sir Damon Buffini and also including Ian Ritchie, the former chairman of the Rugby Football Union, Richard Scudamore, the former chief executive of the Premier League, and 2014 captain Paul McGinley – will seek a definitive answer from Westwood in the next eight weeks.

Luke Donald, another former world No 1, is also believed to be interested, as might be Graeme McDowell, Henrik Stenson and Robert Karlsson.

However, the job is clearly Westwood’s if, as he says, “I can bear to let go of 24 years of playing in it” and he already has ideas on how it could be improved. Westwood was quick to praise Padraig Harrington, saying “the way he talked to the team this week were some of the best [speeches] I’ve ever heard from captains”, but would roll back some of the Irishman’s decisions.

Bafflingly, Harrington elected to have only three wild cards at his disposal, one fewer than his predecessor, Thomas Bjorn.

As well as this limiting of his options, Harrington chose the BMW PGA Championship, the European Tour’s flagship event at Wentworth three weeks ago, as the final qualifying event and, with so many points on offer, that made it a hugely tense affair for the players, in contrast with the US team, who at the same time were enjoying a leisurely and hugely informative reconnaissance trip to Whistling Straits.

“Four, four, four, my first thought would be – four off the Euro list, four off the world list and four picks,” Westwood said. “There’s got to be some sort of qualifying because you want your players to play under pressure. But I just feel like Wentworth is a massive tournament which should stand on its own and shouldn’t have the distraction of it being the last qualifying event.”

While the Americans were gung-ho about their chances of winning their first away match in what will be 30 years, Westwood pointed out the trend of comfortable home wins in the past four matches.

“It keeps flip-flopping,” he said. “We set the course up for us, narrow the fairways, have thick rough; then they set it up for them, they cut all the rough out. Home advantage is massive. It was even bigger this time around with no European crowds [because of Covid restrictions].”

Westwood also feels optimistic about the talent emerging. “I think the future’s bright for European golfers,” he said. “Shane [Lowry], Viktor [Hovland], Bernd [Wiesberger] and, obviously, Jon [Rahm]. It’s easy to say he’s world class because he’s world No 1 but watching him and Sergio [Garcia] is like watching Seve [Ballesteros] and Olly [Jose Maria Olazabal] isn’t it?”

Ian Poulter, Westwood’s long-time friend and team-mate, thinks a changing of the guard is “inevitable”. “America have had theirs – Tiger [Woods] is not here and Phil [Mickelson] has a radio in his ear [as an assistant captain],” he said.

“They’ve handed the baton over and that will happen to us. In our teamroom last night, there were a couple of emotional speakers and I just wished I was 20 again. It’s hard when you’ve played so many and been part of so many successful teams, hard when you get old and you know so many of the best days are behind you.”

It was such thoughts that made Poulter cry after beating Tony Finau on Sunday. The 4 & 3 victory means he has still to lose a singles in seven Ryder Cup appearances.

“I’m 45 and will see how it pans out,” he said. “Not saying never but realistically, looking at the strength on tour, it’s going to be very hard to get in next time. Driving into the course today and not knowing if it will be your last gets to you pretty good. Even when I was trying to close the game out, my mind was wandering, ‘Is this it? Is this my last match in a Ryder Cup outfit?”

Like Westwood, Poulter – who already seems nailed on to captain in 2025 in New York – is excited by what comes next for Europe.

“As well as some of these lads here, there are the Hojgaard twins [20-year-olds Rasmus and Nikolai] and many others,” Poulter said. “Our younger players will grow over the next few years just like the Americans have. And then they can do what the US are doing. I’m not at all worried on that score.”