Up close and personal with Masters champion Danny WillettMarch 14, 2017 History
Twenty years after Greg Norman's Augusta capitulation, Jordan Spieth did likewise. Both times, an Englishman took advantage. NCG went to meet the latest beneficiary of a Masters meltdown...
On March 29, 2016, Danny Willett became a dad for the first time. He might have been forgiven for looking forward to the Masters to catch up on some sleep.
Twelve days later he became the Masters champion. If the previous 11 days had been odd, then the closing stages to last year’s tournament trumped it all.
By the end, Willett had won by three, Europe had its first champion since 1999 and, to bring the curtain down on the week, Jordan Spieth had to slip the Yorkshireman into the Green Jacket.
The average number of starts to win a Masters is six before winning – you did it on your second visit. And you were the last player to arrive…
I’m happy to bring the average down a bit! At a course like Augusta you’re always learning and I know we were the last to register but my caddie Jonny was there a couple of days ahead of me and had done his homework.
We didn’t have much time but the preparation was very, very good and very focused and we used the time as well as we possibly could.
You watched it back on the Tuesday with your wife when you got home – how often have you watched it since?
I watched a re-run at Christmas when I had a bit of time at home. It was great to just sit back and watch it again and take it all in. It’s not something you’ll do often but it’s great when you do.
When did it properly sink in that you were the champion?
It probably took a bit of time because the weeks after were so busy with media and other things. Maybe when I started playing a full schedule again I realised that things were going to be a bit different but it’s certainly nothing I’d ever complain about. I’ll never get tired of talking about Augusta.
The 10th and 11th are considered big danger holes – you parred both every day– and you played 12 in one under. How important was it to come through those holes unscathed?
Very. Augusta really is about keeping your rounds going and par saves can be so important to you. They’re what keep you in the tournament.
Where would you rank your bogey-free 67 on Sunday?
It’s obviously right up there. There are rounds when you’ll make more birdies but our execution was just how you’d want when it really mattered. It’s why you put in all the hours.
There were high fives and thumbs ups from Billy Foster over the last few holes – if you had a choice of a Sunday pairing would Lee Westwood be it?
It was great to experience something like that with Westy and Billy. I consider them both to be good mates so it was mega playing such an important round alongside them.
On a scale of one to 10 how nervous were you?
That’s such a hard question. I can’t say there weren’t nerves there but it was about controlling those feelings and emotions. We knew it was about sticking to the processes and not getting ahead of ourselves. To do it under that pressure is what you’re in the sport for.
On a scale of one to 10 how excited were you?
It’s exactly the same. It’s hard to understand because it’s all over so quickly and it’s only something you can really think about when it’s done. There was excitement and I had a couple of laughs with Jonny over those last couple of holes but the rest of the time I was totally focused.
What about when you knew you were leading?
Someone said it to me when I was on the way to the toilet after the 15th. I had a little laugh and then it was back to what we were there for. We hit a nice tee shot on 16, made birdie and went on from there.
Pete Cowen says you are one of the best wind players in the stable and last year it was gusty for the first three days which was quite odd for Augusta. Did the harder-than-usual conditions help?
It was probably one of the highest-scoring Masters in a few years and that may have suited me. There were tough conditions at times and it was just about staying in there and keeping your round and your tournament going.
You favour a fade off the tee, but everyone talks about the need to hit it the other way at Augusta. What tee shots might you not be that comfy with and are these just easy generalisations?
Everyone will always talk about 10 and 13 at Augusta and there’s no doubt that being able to hit
a draw on certain holes gives you an advantage but you have to find a way of playing them if they don’t necessarily suit your eye. I made bogey on 13 on the Saturday but played it well on the Sunday and made an important birdie.
For many of us the shot to 17 was the shot of the year – how hard was it and do you feel like you got enough praise?
It probably didn’t look like it was in a bad spot but it ended being a lot quicker than it might have seemed to. It was a really nice chip and exactly what I needed. It just kept the momentum going. And people do mention it quite a lot, don’t worry!