Danny Willett destined for golf stardom, insists the coach who helped him on his way

Danny WillettDanny Willett
Danny Willett
UPDATE: Sheffield's Danny Willett has won the Masters in Augusta.

Defending champion Jordan Spieth suffered an amazing collapse in the final round of the Masters to leave Danny Willett with his first majo title.

Keep following The Star for updates - and in the meantime, read up on the man who is about to win in this exclusive profile:

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The cold, windswept fairways of Birley Wood golf club are a million miles away from the manicured, lush perfection of Augusta National where Sheffield’s Danny Willett began his quest for a first major championship this week.

But for one Sheffield golf coach the journey the world No 12 has taken from South Yorkshire to Georgia was always likely given how hard Willett worked on his game from first picking up a club.

Peter Ball was Sheffield golf development officer for almost 30 years and guided a young Willett through the early stages of his development.

Ball, who now works with Sheffield-based golf technology firm Zen Oracle, said Willett’s work ethic shone through.

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“When you see a set of kids there’s always kids in the group that will shine more than others, they pick things up quicker than others, some of those kids progress, some of them don’t,” he said.

“Some of them will pester the hell out of you, it’s usually those that pick it up quicker, work extra hard, they just do things slightly different to the others around them, they are usually quite inventive and intuitive in different ways. With Danny he was a very, very, very bright young man.”

Peter, aged 59, has a strong track record for bringing through talented young players. English amateur champion Joe Dean and European Tour player Oliver Whiteley are others who have benefited from his guidance.

None though received special treatment. He said: “They all washed golf balls and cleaned clubs and cleaned shoes. Everybody had to look after the equipment, didn’t matter where they were in the scale of things.

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“Danny came to me when he was 15 and a half, 16 and disappeared because he went to America then he came back briefly for about another six months, by then he was the No 1 amateur in the world.

“He phoned me up on the Monday morning and said he’d got a chance for being picked for the Walker Cup, so I told him to give us a call back if he got picked. He phoned me lunchtime to say he’d got picked. I said ‘well, are you coming up tonight then?’ He said ‘well, yeah, I’m coming up’.

“I told him I was teaching, that he’d have to help me out because I was working. So he gave putting lessons to the girls on the day he got picked to do the Walker Cup.”

As Willett’s career has progressed to include four victories on the European Tour, Peter could be forgiven for taking a closer interest than most in his success.

That, however, is far from the truth.

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He said: “The trouble is, in my mind I don’t see them as adults, I don’t mean that disrespectfully but they remain young people in my mind and it’s very hard to change that mindset.

“I mean I speak to them if I see them but I don’t go out my way to meet them because they’ve got their own lives to lead, they’ve progressed. I’m certainly not going to be a shirt tail-holder because that is not me.”

Now Peter’s attention has turned to heading up Zen’s junior development programme and working with the next generation of talent by using the Zen Flowmotion method of coaching.

He said: “The best way I can describe Flowmotion is there’s no evidence of direct coaching taking place, that’s what impresses me, that’s what I love about it.

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“It’s taking what is probably described as a very complicated movement and making it sound remarkably simple, but without actually physically doing anything with the player, in other words teaching them to play without telling them how to play.”

Peter said trying to make golf less complicated is key to attracting players into the game or encouraging new starters to stick with it.

“The more I’ve coached, the less I’ve coached, that might sound a very strange thing to say but through the process of 40 years of trying to coach technical, I realise it didn’t work, so I’ve gone further and further away from it,” he explained.

“I have an understanding and underpinning of the ball flight laws and everything else but there’s a golfer in every player.

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“I don’t see anybody who can’t rotate their shoulders or can’t turn their hips or can’t move their feet, so knowing that, coaching is about trying to get a person to understand where the body is, not where the golf ball is.

“Because the golf ball’s not going to move, is it?”