Ryder Cup: Europe’s oldest player Lee Westwood loves life on Tyneside, his brother-in-law reveals

On Sunday morning, a short iron from the River Tyne in the Northumberland countryside, Lee Westwood’s friends and fellow Close House members will enjoy their own ‘Ryder Cup’.

Sir Graham Wylie, Alan Shearer and John Carver will be among those who then retire to the 19th hole to cheer on the history-chasing Westwood on the final day at Whistling Straits.

At 48, he is the oldest player on either team, equalling Sir Nick Faldo’s record of 11 European appearances. He could also become this continent’s all-time highest points-scorer. On Friday, though, he will be back here to play with Wylie in a charity event. And he won’t even be favourite.

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Lee Westwood will equal Sir Nick Faldo’s record of 11 European appearances at the Ryder Cup

Sir Graham Wylie (right), owner of Close House, with Westwood (L) and Renato Paratore of Italy after the last round of the British Masters in July 2020

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‘Because of the handicap system he doesn’t often win these things,’ Wylie, Westwood’s brother-in-law and Close House owner, tells Sportsmail. ‘I don’t think he has ever beaten me — he gives me 28 shots every time. He also plays for enjoyment more than anything, he’s just one of the lads here.

‘He was playing in one club event, though, and he was two over after nine. I said, “Come on, Lee, start showing a bit”. He birdied four of the next five. He said, “What, like that?”.

‘It’s funny when he plays in charity days and you can see how nervous the others in the four-ball are. You can see they’re shaking. But after a few holes, Lee relaxes them. It’s like playing with your mate, only he’s a lot better than you!’

Westwood has been the course’s touring professional for the past decade, first landing in a helicopter to play a round with Shearer in 2011. Nottinghamshire-born, he has made the North East home, meeting his wife, Helen, through Close House in 2015. She caddies for him on tour, although his son, Sam, will carry the bag this weekend.

Westwood (R) met his wife Helen (centre), who caddies for him, through Close House in 2015 

It has all contributed to the career renaissance of the former world No 1, who perhaps thought his Ryder Cup days were over when he missed the 2018 event in France for the first time since his rookie outing in 1997.

‘Being here, and the area, he loves it, it just relaxes him,’ says Wylie. ‘Helen is great for him. She chills him out. It’s like having your own sports psychologist who keeps you motivated and upbeat.

‘They don’t talk about golf on the course. They’ll talk about what they’re going to eat or drink that night, where they might go on holiday. It’s about mindset and being at ease.

‘He does his own yardage and club selection, he knows these courses so well by now. Mentally, he is in a very good place.

‘He’s 48 and still doing it at the highest level. If you’d said 10 years ago that he would still be doing this, he might have questioned it. But it’s his passion, desire and energy that puts him there. He certainly doesn’t feel old.’

Wylie has spoken to Westwood, who is full of confidence ahead of the start on Friday 

Wylie has spoken to Westwood, and the word reaching Tyneside from Wisconsin is one of confidence.

‘The Americans look very strong on paper, but they’re playing on grass,’ says Wylie. ‘Lee is telling me Whistling Straits is more suited to the Europeans than previous American courses, because of the narrow fairways and heavy rough. They’re also hoping the wind blows. They want it to be a challenge, that will suit the Europeans.’

Better still for Westwood, there are strong gales forecast in the North East next week. Maybe then this golfing icon will finally win an event closer to home.

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