Top of the leaderboard and set to storm the Dubai World Championship, we caught up with English golfer Lee Westwood between tee-offs in Shanghai. Are you looking forward to coming out here? I’m very much looking forward to it, I always like coming there. We’ve had a massive golf season now with the Race to Dubai as its finale. It’s a good end to any golf championship. What do you make of the Order of Merit becoming the Race To Dubai, do you think it’s a good move? Yeah, it’s really just the same as the Order of Merit, renamed with new branding. But I think it’s a great idea to put together a massive event like this at the end.
You managed to break your two-year wait for a tournament win last month at the Portugal Masters. How was that, and what fell into place in the event? I hadn’t won for a while. I’d given myself lots of chances in those two years and not taken any so it was nice to take one of those chances. I was a little bit more patient in that game, I just let things happen - let other people make mistakes and wasn’t too aggressive at the wrong time.
Do you reckon anyone might sneak into that top 15 ranking in the Race To Dubai? I haven’t properly looked through it, but I know it’s completely wide open. There are lots of people just outside this year that could easily get involved in that top 15. I just know there are three big events left and a lot of money to play for and I’m in the best position because I’m winning.
You said you always like coming out to Dubai, what’s special about the place? There’s plenty to do there, the weather’s normally predictable and the facilities are very good - I usually go practicing at the Els Club as well while I’m there. Whenever we play a tournament in Dubai it always feels like a big tournament; everyone’s very enthusiastic about having the golfers and the tournament and it always gets in the big names.
Lee Westwood ENG
Martin Kaymer GER
Rory Mcilroy NIR
Ross Fisher ENG
Paul Casey ENG
Oliver Wilson ENG
Geoff Ogilvy AUS
Angel Cabrera ARG
Simon Dyson ENG
Ian Poulter ENG
Sergio Garcia ESP
Soren Kjeldsen DEN
Francesco Molinari ITA
Gonzalo Fernández-Castaño SPA
Peter Hanson SWE
After fighting it out in the 48 tournaments that make up the annual European Tour, the world’s best golfers are now racing to Dubai to battle for big prize money. Replacing the usual Order of Merit, which splits a cash prize between the top 15 golfers at the end of each annual tour, The Race To Dubai offers a pool of US$7.5million (Dhs27.5million) to be shared among the tournament’s top finishers.
With only 60 golfers qualifying for the Dubai World Championship, which rounds off the European Tour as a whole, all eyes will be watching to see who can break into the top 15 at this late stage. Leading the race is England’s Lee Westwood, holding off the likes of Paul Casey, Rory McIlroy, Martin Kaymer and Geoff Ogilvy. Angel Cabrera, Sergio Garcia, and Henrik Stenson are primed to make a late dive in to the top 15.
To add to the excitement, the inaugural Dubai World Championship is being played on Jumeirah Golf Estate’s brand new course.And as far as dramatic course names go, Earth Course – designed by Aussie legend Greg Norman – pretty much trumps the rest. Water features are hazardously abundant on the course, which has been created as a pastiche of European and North American parklands to make a fitting round-off to the European Tour. Course aficionados have noted the maturity of the grass itself, having been left to develop since mid-2008. We spoke to Norman to see what he thinks of the final three holes.
‘A high-risk shot will give you the most reward onto the green. You’ll need to watch out for the waterfall that links the two lakes.’
‘A fantastic, but precise short par three. Wind from any direction will make this very difficult, with the tight island green surrounded by a selection of bunkers offering the green the maximum protection.’
‘A long par-five hole to finish, with water off the tee right and a creek right at the landing area. The green is raised and uphill from the fairway with the falaj off to the left. A true challenge for the ultimate finale.’
The resident player
Time Out caught up with championship contender Henrik Stenson – a world-class Swedish golfer and proud Dubai resident. Words Joy Chakravarty.
If I were not a golfer, I would have tried to be good in some other sport, or been in some business. I love to compete. I would have done something where the result was important.
I think the craziest things I have done are mostly on the golf course. I have a reputation, and a well-deserved one, of breaking clubs and collecting fines for doing so. I normally get more upset during practice rounds, and the worst incident would be when I broke three clubs during one round. It’s great to know that President Barack Obama is a keen golfer. Hopefully, I will meet him if he plays the odd pro-am. But he will surely be very busy keeping a big country like the US on track, especially in situations like the ones we face today.
I think Tiger will make a great president one day. I did once ask him about that, but he wasn’t too keen. I think he just wanted to win majors at that time. The way he manages everything on and off the course, I would say he’ll definitely make a good president if he puts his mind to it.
The scariest thing that’s ever happened to me would be a couple of close calls while driving. There was one in Abu Dhabi a couple of years ago, when a lorry suddenly turned in front of me and I went right off the track. It was scary, but some quick reaction and a good, responsive car saved me. I won’t say I am superstitious, but I am more routine-driven. I start a tournament with one number ball, and play No 2s on the second day and No 3s on the third. On the final day, it is a mix of No 1, 2 or 3, because No 4 is not my favourite number. And 99 times out of 100, I mark my ball with a Swedish one kroner coin. Not the same one, but any one kroner coin.
So what’s so exciting about golf? Joy Chakravarty, editor of Middle East Golfer, argues his case. To an outsider, golf may appear as exciting as watching paint dry. But for a golfer, it is the greatest sport ever invented – the perfect combination of mind and skill. A non-golfer may ask, ‘So what’s the fun in bashing a stationery ball? A golfer will reply, ‘Therein lies all the fun.’
That stationary ball, pristinely unaffected by any other factor (including competing players), makes golf the most addictive of all sports for two reasons. First, in every other sport, it is your competitor who dictates your playing strategy, and hence your performance in the match. A player is mostly reacting to a situation created by another competitor, whether it is Wayne Rooney trying to head in a cross, or Sachin Tendulkar trying to dig out an Andrew Flintoff yorker. But in golf, you cannot blame anybody else but yourself for every mistake. If you lose, you lose to yourself. And believe me, that’s the one person you don’t want to lose to.
And the second reason? Because the ball is stationary, a golfer has to condition his mind to produce the exact same trigger that elicits the exact same muscle reactions to achieve the consistency required to become good at the game.
When you do hit that perfect shot – when everything is in sync, the club makes impact at the sweet spot and the ball takes the perfect trajectory – the feeling is sheer exhilaration. And somehow, you will hit that one shot, even during the worst round of your life. That one shot has the incredible power to lure you back to the golf course again (yes, even at 5am on a Friday morning). So have a go. I guarantee you won’t feel like an outsider for long.
The Dubai World Championship is the climax of The Race to Dubai and the international golf season. So far, 70,000 people from across the world have registered for the free event passes (see www.dubaiworldchampionship.com for yours). As well as the game, there will be a bar and deck (designed by Left Bank and Après), chill-out zones, golf simulators and local bands. It all kicks off on November 17 with the Championship Beach Party at Atlantis. Bring it on.