There were lots of feel-good stories in 2018 and Danny Willett’s, along with his mate Lee Westwood, maybe topped the lot. It’s a strange phenomenon to win a major, particularly The Masters, as, having achieved a lifetime’s ambition, you then have to start again but with everyone watching and wanting a slice of you.
Then your body stops working properly and people start asking a load of very different questions and, before too long, you’ve plummeted from 9th to 462nd in the world rankings.
The road back was a long one but, when you’ve got Willett’s skills, perseverance and work ethic, things are going to click back into place before too long.
And so in Dubai in November, a tournament he did brilliantly to even play in, he claimed his sixth European Tour victory. I chatted to him about his road to recovery…
What was the most satisfying aspect of the Dubai win?
Just the way that it all unfolded. I hit some great shots down the stretch the last six holes when the pressure was on. And we weren’t chasing, a lot of my wins have come from behind and we’ve pipped them near the end, in Dubai we were up there all week and to hold the lead for a long time on Sunday was different and it was nice, for the most part, to play some fantastic golf after everything’s that happened. The game was in a good place.
Your hands might have been shaking at Augusta but you always look like you enjoy being in contention. Was that feeling still there?
I’ve not had that feeling for a long time and you can’t practise it but it was still there. You say to yourself I’m sure I’ll be alright and I was nervous – everyone is – but when you’re nervous and you can still hit shots like the ones at 14 and 15 and 17 it proves how far I’ve come in last 18 months.
— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) November 19, 2018
And how satisfying was it to do it on a course where you have to hit a lot of drivers which is a club that puts so much pressure on the body?
The back’s been fine. The last time I took painkillers at a tournament was Malaysia at the start of last February and that was an achievement in itself. This is what Foles (coach Sean Foley), my fitness trainer Kev Duffy and I have worked on, to get the body in a position to keep practising and get my speeds up and get the ball going a bit further.
How many tablets were you taking on a daily basis?
A good few, especially on the plane, so four to six Co-codamol and Ibuprofen in case it flared up on the course. It’s not good for you, your body or your insides, you’re not supposed to depend on painkillers.
A lot it is down to lifting the kids or doing nappies, half the time you’re sat on the floor playing with them in awkward positions and that’s almost worse than playing golf.
When people are busy writing you off how much does going back to being a dad help everything?
I don’t really look at stuff online these days. People are just trying to get a reaction and make a name for themselves so I just leave them alone. You do realise there’s more to life than just golf, it’s a big part of my life and it gives me a lot of pleasures but being with the kids is amazing. They don’t know if you’ve shot 60 or 90 and when you come through the door they either come running up to you or crawling up to you and they’re beaming and that does help you get through some shitty times.
When you get home, regardless of how bad your day’s been, you have to take care of them so you get over everything a bit quicker and you have a better perspective on everything.
There have obviously been some frustrating times but there hasn’t been any public moaning through the tougher times…
I’ve never been one to slag people off publicly, you do things in private and as professionals. It was more lashing out at myself and trying to get better and not quite doing it. I try to be as consistent as possible.
I left Pete Cowen and Mike Walker and my old physio Paul Farquharson all amicably as I wanted to give it a go with other people. You move on and you don’t make a big hoo hah. I’ve had a lot of success with different groups of people and I was at the stage where I needed some fresh eyes.
Did you notice a difference in how people acted around you?
My friends have never changed. I play golf with the same lads every weekend and I hang around with the same people on tour. You make new acquaintances but being friends is a different thing.
Where would Willett take the British Masters if he were to host? And what would he have done differently after his Masters triumph? Find out on the next page…