LEE Westwood predicts that the North East will deliver superstar golfers like himself and fellow Ryder Cup winners in the years ahead with top-quality facilities coming more and more to the region.
The 40-year-old former World Number One was in the North East this week, putting the disappointment of missing out on the Open at Muirfield behind him by launching the new Lee Westwood golf course at Close House in Heddon-on-the-Wall.
More than £500,000 has been spent upgrading the filly course, with Westwood acting as a consultant, just as he did on the main colt course.
And he says facilities like this can only help the sport develop in the North East.
He told the Echo: “Golf courses like Close House are world class and I know that the region has made progress generally over the last few years.
“That has to be one of the first starts to producing top class golfers and I believe the infrastructure is more and more in place in the North East, including academies, from which young talent can develop.
“Facilities aren’t the be all and end all of course – you’ve got to have talent – but if you’re from Newcastle or Sunderland, Middlesbrough, Durham, Hartlepool, anywhere in the North East – I think that the facilities are there now, more than ever before, to develop your game.”
Westwood, one of the most successful and consistent golfers in the world, celebrated the official opening of the Close House course by flying in with the Ryder Cup, which was almost as much of a draw yesterday as the player himself.
Naturally Westwood was asked about both the ‘Miracle in Medinah’ – the latest amazing Ryder Cup victory by Europe – and the disappointment of losing out on the Open last weekend.
But Muirfield is a disappointment he has already put behind him.
“I was fine about it on Sunday night,” he told the Echo. “A lot of people seemed a lot more upset about it than me – friends, family, even the media! Naturally I wanted to win and it’s disappointing if you go into the last day ahead and don’t hold on.
“But I did my best, I felt very relaxed, I just simply didn’t play my best golf and others did.
“I’ve won so many things over the years but there is this focus on winning the majors and I understand that.
“I’m still very confident that I will win one and the great thing is that there’s another one just around the corner in a couple of weeks time in the States.
“And I’ll go into that knowing that I’m in good form - considering how I performed overall at Muirfield.”
Westwood is among the most grounded professionals in the sport and has learned to treasure the great days and put the disappointing one behind him.
Looking at the famous trophy he was cradling in his arms, he said: “I’ve watched the Ryder Cup since 1985 and been lucky to have played in eight of the tournaments but the final day was unlike anything I’ve ever seen or been a part of.
“To be so far behind and to come through and win it was staggering.”