Coming to America: Willett ready for new beginnings
This time last year things were very different for Danny Willett – he was just about to pull out of Abu Dhabi before then embarking on a miserable run of missed cuts. By the time the Irish open had rolled around in July he had played just twice on the weekend.
Now, though, he’s buzzing and ready to give the PGA Tour a go with his young family alongside him. That week in Ireland gave him a rare top 10, Carnoustie was solid, and from there his game – and body – began to click into place.
Come Dubai, 953 days and 63 tournaments after that Masters breakthrough, Willett beat Patrick Reed and Matt Wallace by two to win the Tour Championship. Noticeably, after all the injuries and setbacks, there were tears where there had been none at Augusta.
Last week, Willett opened up to NCG about his darker times. Now, the PGA Tour beckons and the radar’s back on the majors…
"It's been tough…"
— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) November 18, 2018
What does the first half of your year look like?
We’ll try and get all our numbers up in America before coming back to Europe and then play either the Irish or Scottish as our first event back in Europe.
We’ll be playing a good few and see how we go. The Dubai win opened up a couple of starts and got us into Mexico, and so things have panned out nicely for the next few months.
You’ve not done America properly before so presumably this is a big thing for you?
I played in a few in 2017 but was injured and ill and things didn’t work out. Now I’m better and we’re all going as a family to see if we like it. We’ll base ourselves in Orlando.
I lived in Alabama for a couple of years at college but otherwise I’ve always been around Rotherham, Sheffield or Worksop as that’s where our families are from.
We’ve got grandparents who want to see the kids so there’s never been a need to move from there. So, yes, this will be the first prolonged block away from Yorkshire.
So why now?
I’ve still got three years left on my exemption for the PGA Tour and Zac doesn’t start school for another two years while Noah has four years. So there’s a bit of a buffer before we have to choose schools and that will be a tricky decision whether to do that in America or England.
You obviously want the best education for your kids and family life. Golf is my work but it’s easier for me to travel if the kids are happy at home in the UK so we’ll see. The next couple of years will be a good trial to see how we get on.
Rory McIlroy talked about the difficulties of not playing a full schedule on the PGA Tour. How hard is it to play both tours?
It’s exciting to pick a schedule that we want to play. It’s been OK as I’ve been in all the majors and WGCs and I could handpick which events to play on either tour. There are places on the European Tour that I love going to and I know a lot of the courses like the back of my hand, but this is the way it’s going and my main focus for the first six months is the PGA Tour.
And the warm weather will obviously be good for the body and game?
Definitely, the facilities and weather in the States are amazing and you can get your shorts on and go and play and be a lot more prepared. I used to go to Dubai for a week ahead of Abu Dhabi but generally I’ll be hitting balls at the range and it’s snowing. This is a good grafting opportunity now.
And there are plenty of the lads at Nona, like Poults and G-Mac, Tyrrell’s got a place out there, and I’ve got friends from the PGA Tour like Charles Howell so I won’t be short of getting a game. The best thing is that Foles (coach Sean Foley) is out there.
We would FaceTime each other with me hitting balls but now I will be able to work with him on an off-week basis rather than just at tournaments which will be brilliant and we can crack into our potential.
Willett’s 2019 season begins at the Desert Classic. Follow his progress with NCG’s live leaderboard.