CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Lee Westwood turned 40 last week. If he’d been born a few years earlier, it may have been a milestone celebrated privately, with photographs and memories shared only amongst his closest friends and relatives.
Instead, Westwood had the fortune – or is it misfortune? – of entering his fifth decade here in the Social Media Age. And so in the next morning’s aftermath of his birthday bash, the public was treated to evidence of his celebration in a series of Twitter posts that would have made the guys from The Hangover trilogy proud.
It started with: “OMG!” Continued with: “Hangover from hell!” Then: “Life begins at 40! It must do cos I feel like I died last night!” And finally: “Who invented vodka!”
As if that doesn’t help piece together the puzzle of the previous night, there was a photo tweeted by Luke Donald depicting a bright-eyed Westwood in a shiny purple hat that appears a few sizes too small for his noggin.
Asked about that birthday bash on Friday, he replied, “It was good. We had a good party from what I can remember and people keep telling me.”
Those hangovers may have a little more staying power at 40, but Westwood’s sense of humor is still very much intact.
Apparently, so is his golf game. Opening scores of 70-68 have him right in the thick of contention entering the weekend at the Wells Fargo Championship.
“I've always played well here,” Westwood explained after his second round. “I played nicely last year and finished fifth. I guess you get rewarded for hitting it straight and penalized for missing it off line. Normally the greens are very firm. You have to think your way around and position the ball. This week you can be a little more aggressive because it is softer.”
Never confused for the world’s best putter, there was some conjecture before the tournament that on greens as inconsistent as any we’ll see all year on the PGA Tour, Westwood may actually make more of 'em than usual. Two wrongs making a right, so to speak. So far that’s been the case, as Westwood has needed just 27 and 28 putts, respectively, in his first two rounds.
While the birthday hangover is long gone, he’s hardly 100 percent this week. Playing with what he called a chest infection – “I'm not a doctor,” he explained. “Well, I am a doctor, actually, but not a medical doctor.” – Westwood didn’t seem his usual cheeky self after Friday morning’s round.
When asked whether it would be enough to keep him bedridden had he not been playing, he maintained, “No, it’s not too bad,” before allowing, “I just won't do too much practice this afternoon. I'll just go back to the room and lie down, really.”
Perhaps the old adage, “Beware the injured golfer!” should be expanded to include those suffering from illness, as well.
In fact, as part of his series of post-party tweets last week, Westwood answered one fan’s questions about what score he would shoot at Augusta National in that condition by simply responding, “69.”
Any mention of a major championship venue and his name should serve as a reminder that he famously has never won one, living the second half of his career as one of those so-called best players without a major – golf’s ultimate version of the backhanded compliment.
With his strong play so far this week, Westwood should be excited not only for the upcoming weekend, but next month’s U.S. Open, too. On short, tight Merion Golf Club, his ball-striking skills may finally be enough to erase that omnipresent label.
This comes despite the fact that while his window is still wide open, it may have inched a bit more closed last week. That’s because since 1980, only three players – Tom Kite, Mark O’Meara and Darren Clarke – have earned their maiden major title after the age of 40.
It may be true, that old saying Westwood quoted during the morning after his 40th. “Life begins at 40.” If so, he may be on the verge of even bigger and better things very soon.
When asked if he believes that saying to be true, he left those possibilities open. “I hope so,” he said. “I'll tell you in a few years.”