VIDEO: Danny Willett - A Master’s burden

0
Have your say

Winning The Masters could yet prove to be both the greatest high and the biggest curse in the career of Danny Willett.

Not that he would hand back the Green Jacket for a single second.

A year ago he achieved something that thousands of his peers have dreamed of over the last 83 years - winning at Augusta National.

It catapulted him from being known as one of the European Tour’s most consistent top level performers onto a much more high profile stage.

A Major winner. Masters champion.

His achievements on a dramatic final day in the lush green of eastern Georgia pushed the Sheffield golfer firmly into a spotlight he is unlikely to ever leave.

Danny Willett

Danny Willett

Within that spotlight, Willett endured a rollercoaster ride in the aftermath of his April triumph, managing four top ten finishes but also plenty of toil on the course, including a bitterly disappointing Ryder Cup debut.

While critical eyes were cast upon him by the golfing public, perhaps no one was more harsh on Willett than Willett himself.

And he says he has found it difficult to not compare everything he has done on the golf course to that weekend at Augusta.

“It’s had it’s up and downs,” is how Willett chooses to describe his year since first putting on the Green Jacket.

Danny Willett receives the Green Jacket from previous champion Jordan Speith

Danny Willett receives the Green Jacket from previous champion Jordan Speith

“There’s been a lot of hard work in there that hasn’t paid off. It’s been a bit indifferent.

“I think the problem is, you’re comparing it to something at the top echelon in sport.

“That’s a problem within your own mind. If you’re going to compare every week to Augusta, you’re going to be disappointed every week.

“I think you have to try to get a bit of a different look on things, going through stats and assess where the game is properly, and not just where it feels like it is.

Europe's Danny Willett during the Fourballs on day two of the 41st Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota, USA. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday October 1, 2016. See PA story GOLF Ryder. Photo credit should read: Peter Byrne/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Use subject to restrictions. Editorial use only. No commercial use. Call +44 (0)1158 447447 for further information.

Europe's Danny Willett during the Fourballs on day two of the 41st Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota, USA. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday October 1, 2016. See PA story GOLF Ryder. Photo credit should read: Peter Byrne/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Use subject to restrictions. Editorial use only. No commercial use. Call +44 (0)1158 447447 for further information.

“Then you can actually gain confidence from that, or work at the correct things rather than saying something feels good or bad.

“You need to put a proper perspective on it to get the most our of yourself and your game and realise where you are at that moment in time.

“You’ve always got to manage your own expectations, make sure you’ve got everything in perspective and you’re doing everything right.

“As long as you’re doing that, you probably need to give yourself a bit of slack.”

It is an outlook which will ensure Willett arrives at Augusta with a much more positive outlook on his own game than onlookers will probably hold.

Last year the bookies priced him at 50/1 to win The Masters, putting him in a group of ‘maybes but probably won’ts.’

Willett with Tiger Woods at the Dubai Desert Classic

Willett with Tiger Woods at the Dubai Desert Classic

This year, even as defending champion, the shortest odds available on him repeating his triumph are 66/1.

Arguably being given little or no chance of retaining his title will allow him to tee off on Thursday with far less pressure than defending champions usually face.

Perhaps there will even be the opportunity to enjoy his time at Augusta - something he is certainly planning to do.

“I think it’ll feel very different in the week of the tournament,” he said.

“Everything that comes with being defending champion at a normal tournament is pretty cool. You’ve got a little more to do that week.

“But within Augusta, you’ve got the Champions’ Dinner, the cocktail party, the drive, chip and putt, the par three competition.

“You’ve got all those things to go with it and that within itself, it’s going to be a fantastic week.

“Hopefully I’ll go in with the game in shape, knowing it’s somewhere near and I can enjoy what should be a fantastic experience.”

It would be amiss to suggest the Hackenthorpe-raised golfer will start this week with no pressure.

Talk began immediately after his victory last year that Willett would prove to be the golfing equivalent of a one-hit wonder.

While such suggestions can be attributed to ignorance from casual fans and America-based pundits with shamefully little knowledge of European golf, what it did mean was plenty of people were lining up to scrutinise his every result, determined to prove themselves right.

Those naysayers will inevitably be gathering this week but Willett insists any pressure he feels will be self-inflicted.

“It’s not necessarily feeling pressure as the champion but you do feel pressure because you’re trying so hard to play well,” he said.

“We’ve seen what we can do when we play well and when everything goes your way.

“Unfortunately it’s not gone as smoothly as you’d like to see it but I don’t think there’s been anyone’s career that has been a steady upward curve.

“Everyone has little minor blips here and there.

“If you can put it down to certain things, you know what it is, move forward and get better.”

Signs of improving results have been present so far this year.

He finished in a tie for fifth at the Maybank Championship in mid-February, and arguably should have finished higher or even won, but for a disappointing final round.

Whatever his result this week, Willett will be in the Butler Cabin on Sunday, either handing out a Green Jacket to a new champion or putting his own back on.

And he will be at Augusta every April for the rest of his golfing life. Such honours come with the Green Jacket.

Whatever impact his win last year has had on his career since, who in their right mind would regret any of it.

And Willett certainly does not.

“It’s one of those things no one can take away, what you’ve achieved that day and what you did,” he said.

“The Champions’ Dinner and being able to go for the rest of your life and play The Masters for as long as you see fit - it’s one of the real unique things about what we did.

“To gain exemption into a Major for the rest of your life and to have the Green Jacket up in your own locker in the clubhouse.

“That is Augusta down to a tee, it’s that special.

“I wrote my little bit of history and no one can ever take that away.

“If you can’t enjoy what is about to happen then there’s no point in practicing and working as hard as we do.

“If you can’t actually enjoy the achievements you have, going back and defending a Major championship, then there is something really wrong there.”

On second thoughts, there is no curse in the 2016 Masters Championship at all.

Willett at last year's Open Championship at Royal Troon

Willett at last year's Open Championship at Royal Troon

Willett answers the tough questions at the Ryder Cup

Willett answers the tough questions at the Ryder Cup

Willett with Ryder Cup team mate Lee Westwood

Willett with Ryder Cup team mate Lee Westwood