Column: Lee Westwood chose money and his European tour fate
Lee Westwood has every reason to be sad about the end of his European tour career.
Westwood once relished the memory of playing 20 tournaments in a row on the European tour schedule until he finally won his first career title in the Volvo Scandinavian Masters. Was he determined to keep playing until he won?
“No,” he said with a laugh. “I kept playing because I was 23.”
Not since Colin Montgomerie has a European player of that stature stayed true to his roots. The 50-year-old from England played at least 12 times in 28 consecutive seasons on the European tour, no small task considering seven of those years he also played the minimum 15 events to be a PGA Tour member.
“I wouldn't change those years for the world and feel I made a contribution to the tour,” Westwood told The Daily Telegraph in an extensive interview.
Stats don't lie. He played 590 tournaments on the European tour. He won 25 times across four decades. He captured the Order of Merit three times, the last one at age 47.
“So no, I never would have believed it had ended like this,” he said, “and there has to be a bit of sadness, of course.”
There also must be the harsh realization that he did this to himself.
He was free to choose, and Westwood chose instant riches from Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund to play in a rival league that threatened the very tour to which he had been loyal all these years.
That can't be overlooked. There has to be consequences. He should have known that, even if LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman told players they could have it both ways.
Remember, it was Norman who said in a text to Sergio Garcia some 15 months ago about the PGA Tour: “They cannot ban you for one day let alone life. It is a shallow threat.”
Westwood, Garcia and Ian Poulter were the most prominent players to resign from the European tour last week, a month after a U.K. arbitration panel ruled that players who signed with LIV Golf committed serious breaches and the tour had every right to punish them.
All but Garcia has paid the fine of 100,000 pounds ($125,000) for playing in LIV's debut outside London last June. Still unclear is whether the Saudi-run league, which pledged to pay legal fees, also paid the fines.
LIV has always been about the money, whether it's coming or going.
More resignations are certain to follow. Those three stand out because of their Ryder Cup pedigree, and that might be the biggest blow to Europe. None of them was likely to be in Rome this fall to try to extend a European winning streak on home soil that dates to 1997, but Europe loses a level of experience that can't soon be replaced.
Keith Pelley, the CEO of the European tour, had no alternative. He has to answer to the dozens of players who chose not to chase free money. This was no time to forgive and forget. Pelley made it clear he wasn't going to ban anyone — that was the tact of PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan — but it would cost them a hefty price to return.
Westwood says no one told him the extent of the punishment. Would that have mattered? The Saudis were offering more than he made in his sterling career, along with a $20 million prize fund every time he played. At his age with declining skills, that's hard to turn down.
“As a European tour member, I was allowed to be a member of the PGA Tour without any problem for all those years,” Westwood told The Telegraph. “Tell me, what is the difference? Just because LIV is funded by the Saudis — a country where my tour used to play and where we were encouraged to play?”
This is where Westwood is mistaken.
The difference is LIV was not an “additive,” as Norman likes to say. It was a threat, a commercial challenge, a disruptor. Norman talked about free agency finally coming to golf, which is hogwash. Even a federal judge in California during one of the early rulings concluded LIV was more restrictive than the PGA Tour.
Westwood has been at heart of European golf for the last 30 years, and his contributions should not be forgotten. No one begrudges him chasing a stupid amount of money at this stage in his life. Ditto for all the others in the twilight or beyond of their careers.
Turns out the PGA Tour Champions wasn't golf's greatest mulligan.
The Masters revealed that while there is a great divide in golf, the locker room is still in one piece. There was no hint of hard feelings. That likely will be the case at the other majors.
But peel away the arguments — whether that be tour sanctions for players leaving or LIV still waiting to hear whether its closed shop over 54 holes should get world ranking points — and it still comes down to the choices players made.
Choices come with consequences. They chose money.
Instead of criticizing the tours they left, or complaining about being left out of the Ryder Cup, or questioning their stature in the game, they should be laughing all the way to the bank. Isn't that why they signed up in the first place?
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