Danny Willett may not be the first name that springs to mind when asked the names of past Masters winners, but he will certainly be remembered as the man who ended the barren spell of British success at Augusta, in 2016.
It had been 20 long years since Nick Faldo won the iconic event and although the two players could not be further apart in golfing styles, their wins were almost identical.
At the beginning of the final round in 1996, Faldo trailed then world number one and tournament leader, Greg Norman, by six shots. However, an almighty collapse by the Australian saw Faldo pick up his third Green Jacket.
Willett’s victory came in similar circumstances. The American, Jordan Spieth, led the rest of the field by a massive five shots approaching the back nine and although Willett was slowly closing the gap, it took a quadruple bogey by Spieth to catapult the Yorkshireman into the lead.
He then finished with a clubhouse lead 283 shots for the tournament, five under par and there he stayed.
Since then, Willett has won once in Dubai and the BMW PGA Championship at its home in Wentworth, Surrey, to add to the other four career wins, giving him seven, overall. Alongside those, he has two tied-6th places in The Open – at St Andrews and Carnoustie, as he reveals to RSNG…
RSNG You have been on the European Tour for 10 years now. Do you remember your first win? DANNY WILLETT, YORKSHIRE GRIT WITH A YORKSHIRE GRIP ‘The first thing that I remember about that was going into the final round with a decent-sized lead – which was just as well, because I played awful on the back nine through nerves. It was the BMW International Open in Cologne.’
‘I just about managed to stay in contention by getting into a playoff with the Australian Marcus Fraser. It went to a four-extra hole and I managed to chip onto the green from the rough behind and hole out for a par, while Marcus bogeyed after three-putting.’
‘The thing about your first win is that until it has happened, you’ve literally no idea when it is going to come. How quickly is it going to come from when you turn professional? Are you going to get a win at all?’
‘But when it does come, you are immediately filled with that sense of determination to go and do it again and again. Something which was typical for me and for a lot of golfers, the second one seemed even longer away, haha!’
We are always known for our famous ‘Yorkshire grit’ – that basically means digging your heels in when you think you’re right
RSNG Why do many golfers take so long to win again? DW ‘It’s because most of the guys out on the tour are very, very good. Only one player can win a week and there are only about 40-50 events per season.’
‘If you take into account that the better players will win a few of those – and they also are that good, that they expect to win more often than not – then that leaves even fewer events for the rest of us to pick up’
‘It’s true to say a lot of golfers start picking their battles – you have to start judging tournaments by whether the course suits you and who you might play.’
RSNG It’s true that you have quite a few people to thank for your major win at the Masters in 2016, isn’t it? DW ‘It certainly is. At the time, my wife Nicole was eight-and-a-half months pregnant with our first child and I was almost certainly not going to play at Augusta. So, if our son Zach hadn’t been born when he was, I would probably have missed the tournament by being at his birth.’
‘So, when he is old enough to understand the meaning of when he chose to come into the world and the incredible benefit it had on me winning at Augusta, I will explain it to him!’
RSNG What’s it like being a Yorkshireman traversing the globe playing golf? DW ‘Well, first and foremost, it’s a beautiful part of the country and the cliché is that we are always known by the rest of the country for our famous ‘Yorkshire grit’. That basically means that you’re always digging your heels in when you think you’re right, and you’re renowned for working hard. I think that sums me up, really.’
‘Where I live – about 15 minutes from Sheffield – is deep in the countryside and I would certainly say that peace and tranquillity, when I am out walking the dog, can’t be beaten. It’s lovely to travel but it’s even better to go home.’
‘Although I love what I do I much prefer being in front of a crackling fire and being able to have a clear mind.’
I don’t really have time to look back and applaud myself – one day I might
RSNG What things did you take from growing up into your golf career? DW ‘I am one of four sons so our competitiveness stood me in good stead. The resilience that instills in you, to not give up until you beat a brother at something… that has been important!’
RSNG You must be proud of how far you’ve come? DW ‘Of course, I am, but it’s not something I’m going to dwell on. I know a lot of players say that in the sense that they always want to be looking forward and thinking about the next win, and that is partly true for me.’
‘It’s also about having such a busy schedule that I don’t really have time to look back and applaud myself. One day I might.’
WHAT NEXT? Another Brit making waves is Sheffield’s Matt Fitzpatrick – read our exclusive interview here.
Then, watch as Westwood and Willet take on the 14-club challenge.