Willett’s Masters victory ‘no fluke’

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Danny Willett’s best shots as he won the title

“Swing and Abyss” was the headline in USA Today, summing up an American verdict that the story of the 80th Masters was Jordan Spieth’s extraordinary back nine meltdown.

Yet taking this view ignores a performance worthy of major glory from a player who was ready to win at the highest level. Danny Willett’s triumph was no fluke.

While the wider sporting public can now wake up to the fact that the UK has a new golfing hero, those close to the game have been more than aware of the talents of the 28-year-old from Sheffield.

Willett had served his time to win his first major. Furthermore, he demonstrated a precious killer instinct to pounce on the back nine at Augusta when the opportunity presented itself.

Spieth handed over the initiative as his once five-stroke advantage drowned in Rae’s Creek on the 12th hole, but the Englishman capitalised with the ruthlessness of the finest champions.

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Willett receives the green jacket of the Masters champion

He looked up at the scoreboard on his way to the 16th tee to see that he was now leading the tournament. The next stop was an on-course portable toilet.

“I needed to go, but it was probably a good thing,” he told the BBC. “It gave me a couple of minutes to be with myself, albeit in the bathroom.

“I just had a think about what we were doing and then just said ‘you know what Dan, head back down, get a number, hit a golf shot and carry on’.

“I actually said to myself it’s just five shots. Tee shot into 16 and then the shots to 17 and 18.”

The one he hit to the 16th was probably the shot of his life. It set up the six-foot birdie putt that, once slotted, piled the pressure onto the re-grouping Spieth.

The defending champion was left with too much to do down the stretch and that’s why the young American had to put the famous green jacket onto the shoulders of the English champion.

Willett took up the game as a boy and would be dropped off at his local club to play all day during his school holidays. He would routinely beat his brothers, quickly outdriving them by 80 yards or so.

The son of a local vicar, Rev Steve Willett who preaches at Christ Church in Hackenthorpe, South Yorkshire, and his Swedish mother Elisabet, who works in a Barnsley school, Danny, the third of four children, was captivated by the game.

At 16 he quit his local college course after a month before attending Jacksonville State in Alabama for two years.

Willett was the 2006 Ohio Valley Conference Freshman of the Year and won medallist honours in 2007, before leaving America without a degree.

Later that year he won the English Amateur Championship and in 2008 rose to number one in the world amateur rankings before turning professional.

Willett has been dogged by back problems but countered them with a dedicated gym regime that enabled him to work just as hard on the range. He came through European Tour qualifying school for the 2009 season and finished inside the top 60 in the Race to Dubai.

The Yorkshireman’s first Tour victory came at the fourth extra hole of a play-off for the BMW International Open in Cologne in 2012. He was third at last year’s WGC Matchplay and was only a stroke off the lead at the halfway stage of the 2015 Open at St Andrews.


Willett (far right) with brothers Pete (left) and Matthew (centre)

This was a player starting to fulfil his prodigious potential. He went on to win the European Masters in Switzerland and began this year with a fine victory at the Dubai Desert Classic.

Willett looked at home among the best in the world and challenged at the World Golf Championships event at Doral last month.

But life wasn’t just about golf at this stage because his wife Nicole was heavily pregnant with their first son, who was in a breach position. Twelve days prior to his Masters success, baby Zachariah James was safely delivered by caesarean section.

Willett planned to travel to Augusta for his second Masters on the Tuesday of the tournament but his manager Chubby Chandler persuaded him this would not leave enough preparation time.

Instead the player travelled on the Monday but was still last to sign up. He was the 89th man officially in the field, just as Jack Nicklaus had been 30 years earlier when he so famously claimed his sixth green jacket.

The nine stroke swing between Willett and Spieth in 40 crazy minutes on Sunday will also go into Masters folklore, but the fact that the Englishman became a major champion for the first time should not be regarded as a surprise.

“Danny thought this was going to happen sooner or later,” Chandler said. The experienced manager is convinced Willett, now the world number nine, is in the mix at the very top of the game.

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The putt that won Danny Willett the Masters

“Well he will be now, if he’s not been already. He’s that good,” Chandler said.

“It’ll be nice for Europe to have one of those. Rory [McIlroy] is Europe but he lives in West Palm [Beach in Florida] whereas Danny lives in Sheffield.”

Chandler sees no reason to change his client’s immediate schedule in the wake of this triumph. “Everything sticks the same,” he said.

Willett’s attitude to the game, which is based on the mental strength that was so evident during the closing holes on Sunday, will also remain unaltered.

“He’s talked about psychologists and he said he didn’t need one,” Chandler added. “He talks to his dad and has always said ‘my dad’s taught me to live my life right’.

“And that’s what he does. He writes little thank you letters, he does everything dead right. He thinks that if he does that you’re not going to go too far wrong. It’s very simple.

“He works hard in the gym, he works so hard, partly because of his back, partly because he wants to. He’ll be here for a long time.”

This is wonderful news for the British game, which was reinvigorated by this victory in the most glamorous of the majors and the fine showings of fellow Englishmen Lee Westwood (tied second), Paul Casey (T4), Matthew Fitzpatrick (T7) and Justin Rose (T10).


Aged 19, Willet won the 2007 English Amateur Championship and in early 2008 became the world’s top-ranked amateur before turning professional the same year

For its drama and deserving winner it was indeed a vintage Masters. Spieth will surely recover and clamber out of his current abyss – after all, he already has two majors in the bag at the age of 22.

But he will also be aware that Willett provides another rival to sit alongside Jason Day, McIlroy and Rickie Fowler as a twenty-something capable of landing the biggest prizes.

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