Willett jumps into a different league

dIt was emblematic of that crazy final nine holes of the Masters at Augusta National: In that stilted televised presentation of the green jacket before the public ceremony, with its painfully contrived interviews, Jordan Spieth stumbled over his chair as he stood up to drape the jacket over Danny Willett’s shoulders.

That inexplicable implosion at the 12th, where defending champion Spieth hit his ball into the water twice and walked away with a quadruple bogey should in no way detract from the way Willett played. His five-under-par 67 was bogey-free and confirmation of his status as one of the very best players in the world.

“I looked over at the board, and I actually heard everyone, you know, grunting and moaning or whatever they do when the scores go up,” said Willett. “Jordan obviously had a terrible run, 10, 11, 12, which basically put it right back in anyone’s hands. And fortunately enough, I was able to seize the opportunities.”

He was a lot more than simply fortunate. One of the most impressive things about his game has always been his precision off the tee, and, with the pressure as high as it has ever been in his career, he repeatedly hit three-wood or driver off the box, and was bending down to pick up the tee before his ball had reached the apex of its flight.

It was typical Willett and it will grow into vintage Willett, as will his easy-going nature, the generosity of spirit which made him such a popular winner in the 2014 Nedbank Golf Challenge, his second professional golf title.

That he found himself in the position he did was extraordinary. The birth of his and wife Nicole’s first child was scheduled for the Sunday of the Masters, and he had decided not to play for that reason. But Zachariah was born on March 30, and Willett was the last player to arrive at Augusta on Tuesday last week.

“Nic’s been through thick and thin, long practice days, my being grumpy when things aren’t going my way,” said Willett. “Travelling the world, as beautiful as it is, it’s tough living out of a suitcase and going from hotel to hotel and never really having a proper base.

“I’ve got massive thanks for everything that she does for me. You know, I’ll take this little green jacket back for her.”

Part of what his wife has gone through is his own burgeoning work ethic. “Every time you go to the range, you’re not going there to get a pat on the back and be told how good you’re doing,” said Willett. “You go there to try to get better to try to get that half, that one percent better and I think in doing that, and actually trying to accomplish perfection makes you uncomfortable.

“To actually delve into how you swing it, certain aspects of your game that you might not like, but to try and improve, that makes you uncomfortable. And a person, nobody likes being told that they don’t do something good enough.

“So I think then realising that you’ve got to work on certain aspects of your game and come to the uncomfortable realisation that you’re going to have to work very hard at it, kind of helps you through these times.”

And those times have taken him to a pinnacle. “It’s just been the most ridiculously awesome 12 days I guess,” he said. “Words can’t describe what I’m feeling right now, but words definitely can’t describe how I was feeling last Tuesday when I got to hold the baby my wife and me had made.

“You’re so involved in what you’re doing when you’re on the golf course and you do something special, and it still doesn’t sink in quite what you’ve achieved.

“I’ve won a couple of golf tournaments around the world, but this is just a different league.”


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