Remember me? Willett back from the wilderness after catastrophic loss of form
“The truth is very few people know the sacrifices I make to try and be the best golfer I can be. They don’t know that I’ll get up at 5am to get some practice in, or hit the gym before my son wakes up at 6.30am and I need to help my wife with him. They don’t know that I’m still working my nuts off only to go out and shoot a 75.”
If you haven’t read Danny Willett’s excellent blog on the European Tour website from last year then it’s well worth a visit. We can all surmise what a player is like or where he is at with his golf but few of us really know.
For Willett this year there has been an awful lot of shooting 75, occasionally worse. These are the 30-year-old’s rounds in 2018: 77-71-74-70-76-75-70-68-71-70-72-WD-75-76-73-79-74-77-75-71.
Those efforts equate to one made cut in nine starts and that came at the Tshwane Open where he banked a little over £7,000 for a tied-29th. All the big names in the game were playing in the WGC in Mexico that week.
Much has been documented about Willett’s dramatic loss of form, which has gone alongside his seemingly never-ending injury problems, but a world ranking of 462 last week is barely believable – there are players without a European Tour card who are ahead of him.
When he was bouncing around Augusta and rolling around with his caddie when it was confirmed that he had won the Masters a little over two years ago it seemed pretty inconceivable that what has happened since has played out.
He had the trusted fade, the dazzling short game, the ability to hole the key putts, the unwavering confidence and a team around him that seemed to keep it all light and fun.
But two and a bit years on and it’s all change: the caddie, manager and swing coach. And there is a second child in the family.
To fill in the blanks it has been a wretched time on the course, at the WGC at Firestone he admitted that he couldn’t see a way of hitting a fairway as he finished plumb last in a field of 76 players. Off the course there has been the attention that comes with being a Masters champion, the endless questions of what is going wrong and a body that continued to let him down physically.
Waking up on Monday morning though and things will hopefully seem very different for Willett. A first top 10 since February last year, four rounds in the 60s in Italy – it took him 45 holes to drop a shot – and finally a big pay cheque of a little more than £100,000 thanks to the Rolex Series riches. And all with a strapped-up knee.
Things can change very quickly in golf. The champion Thorbjorn Olesen arrived in Italy in 110th spot on the Race to Dubai, he is now 6th. Willett will gladly take moving up to 105th.
On the blog Willett also mentions that he has learnt from the very best in terms of overcoming drops in form as a game that seemed so easy then becomes seemingly impossible.
“I’m good friends with the likes of Sergio, Henrik and Lee and they are clearly great players in the sport, but each have had dips in form and it’s been useful for me to chat with them and understand how they approached those times when confidence was perhaps waning somewhat.
“What I’ve learnt is that professional golf can be a 30-year career and it’s impossible to think you’re going to be able to go through that without dips in form. It’s a rollercoaster ride. But would I change it? No. Never.”
Part of coach Sean Foley’s work has been to take the stress off the shoulder and back so they can plan for years rather than months ahead and the change in attack and shaft angle has brought about a very different ball flight.
But what looks good on TrackMan and feels good on the range then has to be transferred to the course and, for the first time, score-wise, Willett made some huge strides forward in Italy.
“We’re hitting a different ball flight than last year and a lot of that is more actually playing with the visualisation of seeing a little draw, or hit it a bit higher now, as well. It’s actually being able to trust setting up down the right half these days instead of the left half, and that took a long, long time trying to get comfortable with without trying to get it back to the centre and stuff and double-crossing a few,” he explained after his second-round 65.
“It’s almost a good and a bad thing, not being in the position for a while of going low. But then, at the same time, you’re really enjoying actually having the potential to go low and then to make some more birdies.
“I hit a lot of good shots. It kind of puts things into perspective when you’ve not been playing so well, if you do hit a couple of bad ones, you take a bit of pressure off yourself.”