Danny Willet returns to competitive golf this week at the Sawgrass Stadium Course in the sport’s unofficial fifth major.
One would think that after winning your first major you would be intent on entering as many tournaments thereafter to make the most of your form and your newly-found confidence. Golf is an unforgiving game and the slightest change in grip, alignment, tempo or posture can throw your swing out of sync and leave you feeling like a 10 handicapper rather than a seasoned professional. So when everything clicks, you need to make the most of it.
However, Danny Willett has done the opposite. And it’s understandable if not ideal. On the 10th of April, Willett went from golfing obscurity to US Masters champion after capitalising on Jordan Spieth’s capitulation on the back nine at Augusta. He has hardly picked up a club since.
— Danny Willett (@Danny_Willett) May 6, 2016
Dealing with the media storm that comes with a winning a major is a challenge. Dealing with the media storm that comes with winning your first major is a bigger challenge. Dealing with the media storm that comes with winning your first major at a tournament where no-one from your country has won since 1996 is more than a challenge. Dealing with the latter while welcoming your first child into the world, well that is just something else. And that is what the 28-year-old from Sheffield has been fronting up to for the last four weeks.
So when he says that he has played just one round of golf with his friends since that fateful Sunday in Georgia, you best believe it is true.
“Every single spare minute that we have had, we have locked the door and tried to just have some alone time. It’s just been obviously a bit of chaos back home with media interviews and stuff, so it wasn’t the quiet four weeks I was expecting,” Willett explained.
“Being a dad and a husband, I’ve changed a lot of nappies.”
Willett is now ready to get back into the swing of things and he is adamant that his mind-set leading into tournaments will not change just because he is a major champion.
— Danny Willett (@Danny_Willett) May 9, 2016
“I don’t think you approach it differently at all,” Willett said.
“I’ll approach it the same as I approached Augusta, as I approached the week before that, and do the bits I can do and take care of my little jobs every day. Then hopefully if you do all that you can shoot some good numbers.”
On the contrary, countryman Justin Rose, who Willett has been paired with for the first two rounds of The Players, believes that Augusta could prove to be the catapult that sends Willett’s career to new heights.
“England’s only two major champions from the last 20 years playing together,” Rose said with a smile on Tuesday.
“It’s a nice little club we’ve got going and I’ll have to make sure I welcome him as the newest member.
“I was just packing my bags at Augusta when he holed his final putt, so I hung around to say congratulations. Danny’s brain was probably a little fried just then and he probably doesn’t even remember seeing me.
“It will be interesting to hear how the past few weeks have been for him. When I won my US Open I think I was probably a bit more ready for it. I was a top-five player and 15 years as a pro; if anything I felt it was probably a little overdue. It has happened much quicker for Danny and I’ll be keen to see how he has managed to take it all in.
“He played great that week and whatever happens, here I can certainly see him using Augusta as a springboard to contend pretty regularly in the biggest events we play.”
— Justin Rose (@JustinRose99) May 9, 2016