Danny Willett – The making of a Masters champion

A week after winning the Masters, Willett was back at his club – Rotherham. We asked him about the role it has played in his life.

“Rotherham Golf Club have been massive. They have always had a fantastic junior section. Lol Morgan (junior organiser) was always the leader in that. He worked for Sheffield Union of Golf Clubs for a massive amount of time and helped nurture young talent around South Yorkshire. Luckily enough for me, I was able to join here when I was younger and play with a lot of fantastic golfers.

Titleist

“We were all kind of pushing each other on to get better and play well. Some of them are still playing, and playing really well, and some of them have stopped playing. I was able to keep playing and to be where I am.

“I have got a lot of friends here. A lot of close friends and I am able to still come back now, have a drink in the bar, just be one of the lads again and go out and have a knock.

Danny Willett green jacket presentation

“I had to work hard. There were already a couple of lads here who were a lot better than me. I just kept working hard and doing my thing and, slowly, I progressed and took over a little bit.

“Graham Walker was a coach of mine for a long, long time – through Sheffield days, Yorkshire days and England days. It was 10+ years with Graham of working hard. He was a massive father figure to me, to help me through a lot of tough and good situations and work really hard.

“Family and friends have helped me along the way and kept me grounded, kept me normal, kept a reality check and everything. All of that stuff helps.

“You don’t really have a childhood, between 14 and 20, I guess. They are really crucial years in golf development. You are here after school, working, you have got to try and fit in doing your homework with practising for a few hours.

“At weekends, you are in the medals. You are in the junior opens. Your mum and dad are driving you up and down the country to play in these different things and you don’t just get to go and play out when you are a kid and do that stuff.

Greatest shots at the Masters

“You have got to put the hours in and, if you are going to go to college in America, or play for England, you are then away for a few months of the year training with them – in Spain or in Australia. You look back now and, yeah, I didn’t get to go and ride my bike as much as other kids but I would much rather be sat here now wearing a Green Jacket.

“The (back) injury was obviously a massive setback and that halted things for a couple of years, which was frustrating. Through that, you had to stay patient and know that your team around you was the best it could be and that you kept working hard. It was tough at the time because I had been playing with guys and when I had my injury I had to stop and not play for six to eight months. “You see them doing really well and you are thinking ‘I should really be there and competing’.

“But you stay patient enough, you keep working hard, and it has now got back to where I have been really able to push it and progress really nicely over the last 18 months to two years.”

The childhood coach – Pete Ball

Danny Willett at Augusta

Pete is a PGA professional now based at Barlborough Links and Moorview. He was Willett’s first coach, working with him, and thousands of other youngsters from inner-city Sheffield, at municipal Birley Wood.

“Danny first came to Birley at the age of 11 with his school. I think he’d hit some balls before he came to me but not very many so we were starting from scratch.

“He progressed to the after-schools class and then he started coming every night.

“We built it from there. And he just got better and better – but not meteorically. Danny and James and Carl worked harder than any of the others. Carl Shepherd and Danny were in the same class, which helps. Sometimes you get clusters of kids. There was a lot of buddy learning going on. They stood out from the rest. They ended up playing for England schoolboys.

“Danny had slightly more going for him than most but not much. It’s a tough area where his father worked. Hats off to him for working around there.

“It’s the steel inside them. They’ve had to fight for what they want. And that’s what makes them very hard
people. Very determined people. What do they say – a hungry fighter is a dangerous fighter.

Danny Willett profile

“When he got to 15 or 16, we needed another coach. I said to him as I do with all the kids: ‘You’re 16 years of age, I’ve done the best I can but you need a full-time coach now and I’m not going to be your full-time coach.’

“My idea with all my players is to get them to 16 and then encourage them to leave the nest. They’ve got to make that flight on their own. Not with me. My job’s done.

“We discussed who Danny would like to work with as a full-time coach, he said Graham Walker. I said, great choice. He’d been doing a bit with him at county level. I said that would be perfect for me, a good fit, he knows my coaching methods and he’s an expert technical coach, which I’m not.

“He was scratch or plus one at that stage. But he was driven. A couple of years later, he came back from Jacksonville. He didn’t want to go back to college, he wanted to go to tour school.

“We had an interesting conversation at that stage. My idea was finishing his degree but his idea was going to win tour school. I tried to explain it wasn’t that simple but he said it would be. I knew that fixed mindset was there.

“On the last day of the Masters, I was away from home. I got a phone call from my son. He said: “Danny’s about to win the Masters.”

“So I put the TV on and he was on the 16th.

“I wasn’t nervous. I knew he’d finish it. That was great caddying on the 16th giving him an 8 iron from 183, realising he was hyper and he’s a powerful lad.

Danny Willet reads a putt during his final Masters round

“When he hit that chip on the 17th, I knew he’d do it. Because we’d practised that over the years at Birley and Graham would have worked very hard with him on his short game. That chip was what sealed it for me. To get up and down from there was incredible. That was very, very easy to take five or six from.

“I was very proud of the lad. What he’s done was incredible. It wasn’t the one I thought he’d win. I thought he’d win the Open or the PGA first. Never occurred to me he’d win the Masters.

“Very few people ever win it. Not that he didn’t have the talent. But there are very few people who win the Masters.

“He’ll go out to win everything he can now. That hunger isn’t going to go away. His mindset is that if he’s won one then he wants to win another. He wants to be the world No 1.

“I remember we were talking once when he was world amateur No 2. He said you told me never to speak to you until I’m world amateur No 1. That’s his mindset. And he told me off for saying that he’d done well to get to No 2. So you think he’s going to be happy until he’s world No 1? Absolutely not. He’s got his sights fixed on it.

“It’s a long way from Birley to Augusta. I smile when I think about it – playing a windswept muni in the middle of winter to playing Augusta. That’s a huge journey that very few could even dream that could happen let alone let it happen.”