Willett: Why Foley is the man to get me back to the top
The world rankings can present a brutal reflection of how good your golf is at a certain time and Danny Willett’s current position of 148 reflects that as well as anyone.
He is the last English player to win a major yet is the 18th best from his country according to the stats. When he won the Masters he was part of the world’s top 10.
At the same time nearly two years ago Tommy Fleetwood, whose game continues to thrive at the very top table, was down in 93rd in the world with a worrying bout of the driving yips and a crushing lack of confidence.
Things change and they can change very relatively quickly. Two years ago in Dubai Willett rolled in a 15-foot birdie putt at the last for victory.
“You can’t buy that feeling, coming down the back nine, the last three holes, in contention in a tournament. It’s something that you can’t pay for in life. You’ve got to earn it,” Willett said at the time.
“Coming down the last with all the situations that were going on. It’s just nice to know that I can dig deep there and produce.”
A little over two months later he was coming down the stretch at Augusta; holing more key putts, playing brilliant chips and looking like he’d been born for this occasion. At the very highest level Willett was producing the goods and doing it all with a smile on his face.
The Yorkshireman moved up to 9th in the world and was more than worthy of his spot among the game’s very best.
Two years on and Willett has a different caddie, manager and swing coach. He has also become a dad, twice.
Part of those changes has been teaming up with Canadian Sean Foley, who is best known for his four years looking after Tiger Woods and ongoing mentoring of Justin Rose. A big part of Foley’s ethos is to find a swing that works for each player’s body and for that player to be fit and healthy doing it.
Willett’s career has been peppered with a succession of injuries and he has continued to struggle with his back since Augusta which led to periods of waking up in pain, taking painkillers, having physio just to be able to play, playing and then more post-round physio. At the end of October last year he had to bring an end to his 2017 season due to a damaged rotator cuff in his left shoulder.
He arrived in Abu Dhabi last week, where we caught up with him, hopeful of playing but the shoulder said otherwise. This week he hopes to get his season going in Dubai, home to that win two years ago.
How did you and Sean get together?
I’ve known Sean now for a few years off the course and I’ve obviously seen him working with Rosey and a few of the other guys on the range. I really like his charisma and his energy and we’ve spoken about the swing over the years.
I was struggling with the game, I spoke to Mike Walker and Pete Cowen and they weren’t going to stop me seeing someone else and, in the end, it was a mutual split.
I’m very close to Mike and Pete so I said I was going to see Sean, it is obviously a very different concept to what they teach but, while every coach is very different, when you have seen a few everyone coaches very similar things but they just say it in different ways. It’s how you interpret what they say.
Sean and I started at the PGA at Quail Hollow last year, it’s been a nice winter’s work and I’ve seen him a few times. Unfortunately things got hindered with the shoulder injury so I wasn’t able to hit balls for 11 weeks so I came out early to Abu Dhabi to try and get ready.
What have been the differences that you’ve seen?
The things we’ve been working on have taken a lot of the stress off the shoulder and the back and I’ve seen completely different numbers on TrackMan in terms of attack and shaft angle into impact so I’m liking the direction that we’re going in.
A lot of it has been postural set-up and trying to get that really, really good and solid. I was getting the weight too much on the balls of my feet so we’re trying to get more on the mid foot – and from there to try and get more pelvis movement which I’ve not had much of through the years, not through not being able to but by not doing it.
So more pelvis and hip rotation, and where the weight goes on the backswing, and that really takes the pressure off the lower back. I’m working on these things purely for safety and endurance and not necessarily for my golf swing.
And how does that affect the shots you’re hitting?
If I can get my weight into my right heel then hopefully the hand path will come more on the inside and follow that weight line – and then I can unload and stay on my right side a little bit more.
On TrackMan I’m seeing some very different numbers – from having my path a long way left and the attack angle a long way down I have become more neutral in both and have a different ball flight.
My driver numbers have gone from 2.0-degrees down to 3.0-degrees up on the driver which allows me to be more efficient in my movement and it also makes it easier to fit me.
I can hit more different shots and my ball flight is higher which, these days, is so important. All the best guys can hit it a long way through the air and then bring the flight down if needed. We are looking long term rather than week to week.
How does the relationship work with you living so far apart?
It’s been great, technology is so good these days and any time I hit balls at home I have got my camera and TrackMan set up so all I have to do is capture the swing and send it over.
We can then FaceTime and have a lesson over that, it’s a nice way of doing it as I know where we want to get the numbers to so I can work on my own feelings when I’m hitting balls on the range on my own. I’m starting to own my own moves and my own feelings again which is going to be good going forward.
What’s Sean actually like?
Fantastic. He’s great to be around and very positive all the time.
When I first sat down with him we were talking long term and about trying to be fit and healthy for the next 20 years. Whether the moves are perfected within six months or six years the focus is to stay healthy and get better in the long term. His charisma and personality actually help me to trust all of that and relax a bit. Golf is a game and you take it as it comes.
I have always had great relationships with all my coaches. They’re not just there to help you with what you’re working on but also to be friends, if you can’t get on with the person you’re working on then it’s going to be tricky to be truthful. I like to get on well personally first and then you can concentrate on what you’re going to be working on.