Social media and alcohol are rarely a good mix. In the small hours of the morning following the final round of the 2013 PGA Championship, Lee Westwood had what many outlets described as a “Twitter meltdown.”
Playing with Rory McIlroy in the fourth-to-last group, Westwood began the day six shots back with a slim, if somewhat unlikely hope of bagging his first major. Dropping three shots on the opening two holes, the former world number one would drop another three before eventually signing for a spirit crushing six-over 76.
As Jason Dufner was doubtlessly toasting his success, and maybe even slugging from the Wannamaker Trophy itself, Westwood was drowning his sorrows elsewhere and, unfortunately, decided to check his twitter feed. What happened next was widely classed as a PR disaster, but regardless of the rights and wrongs of it, I saw it more as a glimpse into a tortured soul.
I won’t go into details any further than to say that the Twitter trolls and “keyboard warriors” as Westwood himself called them, took gleeful delight in his earlier misfortune and set upon him like a cackle of hyenas. Now, of course you should ignore them, of course any response is fuel to the flames, but when you’re in pain, and others are clearly revelling in it, then it’s only human to want to lash out.
And lash out he did. By the time I awoke the next morning, the war had run its course, but the tweets remained online. An apology by Westwood soon followed, but he needn’t have apologised to me. Previously somewhat apathetic to the Nottingham man – I had grown up in the Tiger era and, apart from the Irish lads and him, I had few favourites – having shown his human side, I now felt something of a kindred bond to him.
Not that I know what it’s like to have 19 top-10 performances in majors but to have constantly fallen agonisingly short, but I want to think that it hurts. I want to think that Westwood doesn’t go home with a six-figure cheque and be content with another big payday. And the Twitter rant confirmed just that. The Twitter goading may have been the spark, but the mental anguish was the fuel that caused Lee’s explosion.
The torment of letting a final round lead slip in the Open Championship three weeks earlier, of standing on the final green reduced to an also ran as opponent after opponent claimed the titles he covets most. There is a long list of less talented players who have ridden a well-timed wave of good play and good fortune and ended up a major champion.
I’m not going to say Westwood deserves a major title. Those final 18 holes on Sunday are not just a test of golfing ability but are probably the most mentally exhausting four or five hours imaginable, and mental strength is a huge part of the game. All too often, Westwood’s mental fortitude has been found wanting, but how great would it be to see him finally shake that monkey off his back.
Westwood turns 47 two weeks after the Masters – so he’s nearly a year older than Jack Nicklaus was when he won there in ‘86 – but he showed last week that he still has what it takes to compete at the top level. In fact, every facet of his game was superb. He held off a very strong field, and did it in style, particularly on the last hole where any jitters could easily have seen him let it slip.
Time is running out if he is to banish the ghosts of majors past, but the win in Abu Dhabi has given him four more chances. It’s long odds against, but how I’d love to see him cap off his career in the grandest fashion.
And I’d be sure to log in to Twitter that night.