After 25 years at the game's top table, Lee Westwood has adopted a new relaxed approach. Here the englishman explains the reasons behind the change, golf's future and reveals his one remaining goal.
[This article has been updated since Westwood claimed his 25th European Tour title in Abu Dhabi]
Lee Westwood seems a lot more relaxed these days. As he kicks back on the Ping Tour truck ahead of the Irish Open, chatting to anyone who comes on board, the 46-year-old is reflecting with TG about 25 years – yes, a quarter of a century! – in golf's top flight. He's stopped putting so much pressure on himself.
"Don't get me wrong, I'm still trying my hardest, but I don't care where the ball goes. The consequences of the way I play don't bother me anymore. I'm purely about what I'm working on and going out there and trying to do that over every shot."
As a result, he's reaping the rewards of a more carefree attitude. Who knows what he would have achieved if he had adopted this approach earlier in his career? A multi-Major winner, maybe?
"When you break it all down and look at the facts, where we're playing, what we're playing for, the golf courses we're playing on, the weather we're playing in, there's no reason really not to be happy," Westwood stresses.
"I've got my (girlfriend) Helen on the golf bag, and she makes a big difference to my attitude out there. She doesn't know as much about golf but she knows a lot about me, what to say, how to keep it light-hearted and things like that... and it's really entertaining out there.
"We chat about what we're going to have for dinner, where we're going on holiday... and whether there's a nail file in the bag! She keeps me in a good frame of mind – there's more to caddying than carrying a bag and getting the right wind direction."
Against the odds, the racehorse owner – a rank 100-1 long shot – threatened to finally break his Major duck at last summer's Open, until Shane Lowry decided to run away with proceedings, leaving the everpopular and revitalised Westy to settle for T4. With Helen by his side, Westy rolled back the years at Portrush and gave Lowry, Koepka, Fleetwood & Co more than a run for their money.
"I'm 46 years old and still competing with these young lads," he reflects. "So there's no pressure on me, I just go out there and have fun. But, to be honest, I've never felt under that much pressure. I've always gone out and done my best and if it's going to happen, it's going to happen and if it doesn't I'll just go home and have dinner and carry on doing the same things. Life won't change.
"I'm still pretty fit and don't feel 46," he adds. "I'm still working hard and I don't feel like my game is dropping off. I feel like I'm still capable of winning tournaments. But you can't play 30 events at 46 – the body won't let you. You've got other priorities, though you can play around 20 quality events and get ready for those."
Astonishingly, he's now finished 12 times in the top five of a Major without actually winning with his sparkling Portrush showing being his best Open finish since 2013, handing him a spot in next year's Masters.
A Major may have eluded him so far – he remains the best player never to have won one and has singlehandedly destroyed the "if you keep knocking on the door, it will eventually open" myth – but Westy is a European Tour legend who has won virtually everything else golf has to offer.
He's one of the most decorated English players in history, having become World No.1 in 2010 by ending the reign of Tiger Woods and emulating the feat of Nick Faldo, who reached the dizzy heights 16 years earlier. His list of accomplishments goes on and on... 25 European Tour wins, two PGA Tour victories, two European Tour Order of Merits, three ET Player of the Year titles and 10 Ryder Cup appearances, including seven victories.
The first of his 25 European Tour successes came in 1996 at the Volvo Scandinavian Masters, with his most recent triumph coming at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship in January - where he became just the third person in European Tour history to win in four separate decades.
Not bad for a relatively late golfing developer from Worksop. Totally chilled out in the Ping truck – he's been a Ping player throughout his career – Westwood was more guarded when the talk turned to his on-course ambitions.
"It's always been the same for me with qualifying for the Ryder Cup or anything like that. There's nothing wrong with ambition, but it does no good to project too far forward: if I'm there, I'm there and if I'm not, I don't deserve to be.
"Now, I have to set new goals and have new ambitions, but I know when I'm playing well and my game is in good shape I can still contend at any level." And top of the wishlist? "Being Ryder Cup captain, I guess. That's really important to me."
But wouldn't it be a golfing fairytale if he donned the Green Jacket at Augusta next year?
"Augusta is a very special place and I've played great there in the past and had a chance to win it. If you've played there a lot and played it well, there are a lot of repeat winners. It'll be lovely to go back. But I've said it before and I'll say it again, I'm happy with what I've done and if it all ended now, I'd have no regrets."
Lee Westwood... My 25 Years on Tour
Westwood on... Tour Life
Where has that time gone? You're away for weeks on end and time goes so fast. I'm enjoying myself playing golf and they say that time flies when you're having fun... and that's very true. I've been living the dream and when I first set out, to be honest, I didn't really imagine I'd be playing golf for a living, playing the best courses in the world and getting to travel the world, it's brilliant. I really enjoy it. And I still enjoy it. How do I keep going? I love playing and competing. You do see people who don't enjoy it anymore and it's a grind for them and, to be honest, golf is hard enough when you enjoy it.
Westwood on... Equipment
Ping didn't even have a Tour truck in 1994 – that first arrived a decade later – so it was significantly different. Now there is equipment here on site and they can make stuff up pretty much immediately. Equipment has moved on so much. You've only got to see how far the ball goes now and what they're having to do to golf courses to protect them. I think the biggest change is a combination between the ball and the drivers – great drivers of the ball have less of an advantage now purely because of technology; the technology in the heads means that virtually everybody has been brought together with just a few exceptions. If you were a great driver of the ball 25 years ago, you had a massive advantage because you could set the hole up to play easier from the word go.
Westwood on... The sponsor
I've been with Ping for 31 or 32 years since I was invited as a 14-year-old to the factory at Gainsborough – that's where it all started with me with my first set of clubs. It's been like a family relationship since, and a couple of guys there have even been around longer than me!
Westwood on... The competition
I don't think the players in the bottom end of the bracket in the World Rankings have necessarily improved because they've become better, I think technology has equalised a lot of things off. If there hadn't been such advances in driver and ball technology those players wouldn't be as good as they are now. The game has become a lot easier. I think the horse has bolted, to be honest. Some of the lads hit it so far now that golf courses don't have a defence unless you make them longer, make the rough thicker and that plays into the hands of the stronger hitters, doesn't it? Where is it going to be in another 20 years? Players are obviously getting better as a result of improved club technology but, in a way, it's a shame because I don't like to see the feel and creativity taken out of it. There's less shaping of the ball nowadays – if somebody hits a fade now everybody goes into shock, whereas you used to be able to fade and draw it into the flags.
Westwood on... The Media
The Tour is considerably more TV and media driven, while social media is important to most people as well. But when I was a kid there wasn't a lot of golf on the TV, the Majors and that was just about it. Screensport used to show a few if you can remember that with Renton Laidlaw doing the commentary. I think Ewen Murray might have started there as well. Now you get dedicated channels and ball-by-ball coverage backed up by stunning graphics, it's a different world. It's moved the game on incredibly and you only have to look at Trackman and stuff like that – every player has got one and relies on the numbers it provides, enabling you to analyse virtually anything. When I'm away from playing I don't watch much golf at all; it takes too long, it's too slow. Something needs to be done about that.
Westwood on... The money
The first event I played in was in Madeira and the winner picked up about £30,000. I think I finished about 19th and won two grand. (For his Nedback win in South Africa last year, Lee pocketed €1,095,338.)
Westwood on... The players
They're a lot more professional in general. As a whole, I'd say players look after themselves more, they look at their diet a lot more and analyse everything a lot more. That's evolved over the years, including what they work on in the gym... they don't just go and push weights; they're working with wrist bands and doing specific exercises. Actually, I went for a run today, trying to run some weight off. All sports, especially things like Formula 1, have become finely tuned and golf has become finely tuned, too. Everyone has a trainer and works with a psychologist. There used to be a few that did that, the Swedes in the early days, but now everyone has a team around them. It's a big business now.
Westwood on... The course set-ups
They're much better venues these days with much better conditions, pristine really. Courses under 7,000 yards are few and far between now... I don't think we play one under 7,000! In the distant past, sometimes we turned up and found the courses in poor condition. I remember the time Collingtree Park lost the greens for the British Masters and you were down on your knees begging for mercy. Thankfully it doesn't happen very often now.
Westwood on... The Facilties
The ranges are much better, premium balls are everywhere whereas earlier in my career they could have been anything depending on what type of tournament it was!
Westwood on... The future
I think golf will probably become more interactive with the people that are watching, but otherwise I've no idea what will happen next. A World Tour is a possibility – you've got to ask whether golf can sustain all these Tours. Maybe, maybe not. I think people like to see all the best players playing in the same tournament each week, they like to see the top players playing altogether and that only happens 10-12 times a year at the moment.