Danny Hall: Danny Willett’s remarkable rise from sheep farm golf, to Masters champion at Augusta

Masters champion Danny Willett
Masters champion Danny Willett
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When his wife Nicole gave birth to Zachariah James late last month, Danny Willett had no doubt that it was the greatest day of his life.

Less than a fortnight later, he’s not so sure.

That is what winning the 80th Masters at Augusta National does to you, one imagines; it blurs the lines a little.

The fact Willett even travelled to Georgia in the first place was, he admits, a miracle in itself. Zachariah was due to arrive in the world on Masters Sunday and, Willett later admitted, the little one “listened to my prayers and came early”, allowing his proud dad to go and make history as only the second Englishman to wear the famous Green Jacket.

“I’m not quite sure which is better, this day or last Tuesday,” 28-year-old Willett said.

“I always said that I wouldn’t come here if he wasn’t born by now, which stuck. Fortunately enough, he listened to my prayers and he came early.

“It’s just been the most ridiculously awesome 12 days I guess. Words can’t describe what I’m feeling right now, but words definitely can’t describe how I was feeling last Tuesday when you get to hold something that me and my wife have made.

“It’s just been incredibly surreal.”

Willett’s journey began at a nine-hole golf course in Anglesey, an island on Wales’ north-west coast, on family holidays as a youngster. Willett, the youngest of four brothers, stumbled across the game almost by accident, searching for a game he could beat his siblings at.

“The longest club you hit was probably a seven-iron, on this par-three course in the middle of a sheep field,” he remembers.

Danny Willett is crowned Masters champion

Danny Willett is crowned Masters champion

“Fast forward a few years and I’m playing the Masters, and the Open. It’s a bit crazy, really.”

Willett has been an open secret around the South Yorkshire golfing scene for some time now - he won the Omega European Masters last year by one stroke, from fellow Sheffielder Matt Fitzpatrick - but, on Sunday, we shared him with the world. He is now ninth in the world rankings; a Ryder Cup call seems certain, and even an Olympic place could follow.

“Words can’t really describe the feelings and emotions,” Willett added.

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

It’s just been the most ridiculously awesome 12 days I guess. Words can’t describe what I’m feeling right now, but words definitely can’t describe how I was feeling last Tuesday when you get to hold something that me and my wife have made. It’s just been incredibly surreal.

Danny Willett, 2016 Masters champion

Victory seemed a long shot when Jordan Spieth, the reigning champion, birdied four holes in a row and led by five shots with nine holes remaining. But a dramatic late collapse from the World No.2 at Augusta’s Amen Corner, of all places, saw Sheffield’s son of a preacher man make history.

Willett’s dad is Reverend Steve Willett, of Christ Church in Hackenthorpe, Sheffield, and mum is Elisabet, a Swedish-born maths teacher at a Barnsley comprehensive school.

“As a youngster, when I came home from golf, a good day wasn’t about whether I’d shot 65 but whether I was all right,” Willett remembers.

“You see these parents force the game down the throats of their kids and it’s so destructive. I’ve been to a few sports psychologists - but the best one I know is my dad.”

Now 28, Willett’s rise to golf fame hasn’t happened overnight - he was a 60-1 outsider for Masters glory, and more than one national newspaper carried a ‘Who is Danny Willett?’ story this week.

For a while, he yo-yod around the 100 mark in the world rankings, and played alongside Rory McIlroy in the 2007 Walker Cup.

Sheffield Golfer Danny Willett was at Phoenix Golf Club,Rotherham to present awards to the 'Wee Willetts' Golf Kids.

Sheffield Golfer Danny Willett was at Phoenix Golf Club,Rotherham to present awards to the 'Wee Willetts' Golf Kids.

Peter Ball was Sheffield golf development officer for almost 30 years, and remembers the day Willett was picked: “He told me he had got a chance of the Walker Cup, so I told him to give me a call if he did,” Peter remembers.

“He phoned me at lunchtime and told me he’d been picked, and wanted some help. But I told him I was working, and that he’d have to help me out. So he came over and gave putting lessons to some girls, on the day he got picked to play in the Walker Cup.”

Now, his spare time is a little more in demand. He will now take a month or so off to celebrate properly with his new family, after speaking to Nicole via FaceTime as Spieth unfolded. Sunday was her birthday and also the day young Zachariah James was due. It’ll now become just another day in a whirlwind period for the Willetts.

Defending champion Jordan Spieth, left, talks to 2016 winner Danny Willett, of England, before presentations for the Masters golf tournament

Defending champion Jordan Spieth, left, talks to 2016 winner Danny Willett, of England, before presentations for the Masters golf tournament