NEWPORT, WALES | Lee Westwood’s parents, John and Trish, were always together for the start of their son’s matches. Yet barely had they set out to follow play than they would go their separate ways, with John forging ahead, binoculars at the ready, and Trish taking things at a more leisurely pace.
Like Lee, the Westwoods know how to keep Ryder Cup nerves at bay rather better than they did in 1997 when their son played in the match for a first time.
Then, they were waiting beside the Valderrama clubhouse to see who his companions would be for the opening practice session when, to their open-mouthed astonishment, he appeared on the first tee flanked by Bernhard Langer, Colin Montgomerie and Nick Faldo. “At that,” continued John, “Trish and I looked at each other and we both had tears streaming down our faces. There was our little lad playing with ‘the big three’ of the day. It was such a poignant moment.”
That Trish could not eat and could not sleep during Lee’s first three Ryder Cups will almost certainly strike a chord with the families of the 11 rookies – five American and six European – at Celtic Manor. And not least with the Molinari parents, for whom the emotions hit home in a big way at the opening ceremony.
Early on, their view of Edoardo and Francesco was obscured by the podium. All they could do was to catch an odd glimpse of the pair on the big screen to the side. It was only when Colin Montgomerie asked his players to stand that the parents could finally see them. At that, their father broke down. He dabbed at his eyes and, before too long, his wife was lending a helping hand.
From the ranks of the Americans, there was nothing more moving than the plight of Bubba Watson’s father, Gerry. The latter is suffering from cancer and has been told by the medical men that he has only three months to live.
He was back at home but the bond between father and son was sensed by everyone who heard Bubba’s story. “I’m here for my father and for America,” said the player, his words suffused with pain and pride. It meant the world to him that his father would be watching his matches on television.
There were plenty of shots for the elder Watson to savour, with the first of them the approach Bubba knocked through lashing rain to a foot at the second to put himself and Jeff Overton, a fellow rookie, two up on Luke Donald and Padraig Harrington.
Wives and partners are a little different from parents in that they will have arrived on the scene well into their man’s golfing life.
In Thomas Bjorn’s opinion, most wives attending a Ryder Cup for the first time are cheerfully oblivious to what it is all about. “The more matches they experience, the more they understand what it means and the more jumpy they become,” said the Dane, before confirming that Caroline Harrington and Laurae Westwood were the most nervous of the European spouses in Wales.
In which connection, the lingering hug between Lee and Laurae after Lee and Martin Kaymer had bagged the first point of the match spoke volumes.
Ryder Cup players “just know” where their partners are at any given time on the golf course and will often look to them for a reassuring smile – something which, in fact, can work both ways.
“I know,” said Bubba Watson, “that my wife’s going through tortures of damned watching me, just as I’ve suffered when I’ve watched her playing basketball. It’s a case of not wanting the other to mess up.”
This year was a first for parents being allowed to join wives and partners inside the ropes. You might think that some of the players would not have been best pleased but that is not the case.
John Westwood’s take on this situation is that any golfer who fusses about his parents whereabouts is unlikely to have made it to this level. “The worst thing parents can ever do,” he advised, “is to listen to a kid when he says, ‘I don’t like you watching; it makes me nervous.’
“You have to tell them that if they’re hoping to make it big, they are going to have to play in front of a cast of thousands. They’re hardly going to be able to turn round and say, ‘Please go away.’ ”
Father Westwood admits that he had that conversation with Lee when Lee was about 13. But never again.
“Kids,” he continued, “don’t necessarily know what’s best for them. They need their parents’ support and parents, in turn, need to make sure that they give that support through thick and thin.”
In which connection, he may or may not have been thinking of the reaction of that father – and never mind whether this was an American parent or a European – when his offspring hit one ball OB and his next into water.
“I can’t tell you how much you’re embarrassing me,” snapped the father as his lad walked past.
In such circumstances, the son’s spur-of-the-moment response was not too difficult to forgive. “Why?” he asked, “don’t you just **** off and watch someone else.”