Reigning Masters champion Danny Willett gives a fascinating insight into what it's like to be a major winner and gives his frank views on competing at the Olympics, his Open aspirations....and a lot moe besides.
Q. How much would it mean for you to lift the Claret Jug this week?
DANNY WILLETT: It would be amazing. It's everyone's to win, and being British, this is one you want to get your hands on. So, yeah, I had a bit of a taste of it at St. Andrews last year. Playing the last round was pretty special. Playing the last few holes, I was obviously in contention, and then being able to win at Augusta was awesome. And to be able to come here as a major champion and get the crowds with us, obviously would be fantastic Thursday morning. Yeah, it will be really, really special.
Q. Danny, I guess your status as a major champion has opened some nice doors for you as well, you were at Wimbledon in Silverstone the last couple weeks; is that right?
DANNY WILLETT: Yeah, last week, yeah. Fortunately the schedule allowed us to go down. Usually we miss it because of French Open or Scottish Open, and depends on which one you're playing because we had last week off, yeah. Fortunately that opened up a couple of opportunities to go other athletes at the top of their sports.
Q. Tell me a wee bit about that. Did you get to meet Andy Murray or Lewis Hamilton or whatever? Did you take anything from these experiences?
DANNY WILLETT: No, I didn't get to meet them. They're obviously very busy. In the same way I wouldn't expect anyone to come up to me 20 minutes before I played golf and try to say hello. I didn't want to disturb what they were doing.
It was just nice to be invited down and to go down there and share it with Nic and, like I said, see the guys, you know, the best in their respective sports competing under pressure at their best stages. Obviously, Silverstone is a pretty awesome place for the British racing driver and Wimbledon. And then, again, it's their Open, I guess you would say.
So, yeah, it was great to go down there and see them and just see how they do their things.
Q. Having watched Zach at close hands last year, last round, is that part of your learning curve that helped you at Augusta?
DANNY WILLETT: Yeah, it's interesting. Whenever you play with someone and see them win and then you kind of look back, regardless of where you finish, you look back and see how they did it and what they did. Did they do anything special? Is there anything you can take from it, that you could change or do. And the one thing that's impressive about Zach is Zach never changes the game plan for anyone, any golf course. Regardless who he's playing against, he just does his own thing. And he knows eventually he's going to get a few wedges in his hands and get it close, and he's going to roll a few putts in, and that's exactly what he did. He stayed incredibly patient all day and waited for a few good chances and took his chances.
Obviously, you know, you've got to get fortunate in a couple of places, as everyone has done to win major championships. Just seeing how it unfolded and how he played was good for me and a learning experience to see how he's done, obviously, on the world's greatest stage.
Q. Is it a bit of a delicate balancing act? You must be invited to lots of events now that you have the green jacket. Is it a balancing act when to say yes or no because obviously you're devoted to your own sport?
DANNY WILLETT: Yeah, yeah, you've got to get your schedule in, and make sure you have time to practise in there. I set the week out last week pretty good. I went to Wimbledon on Monday, and Silverstone on Monday. And I was able for a few days in between practise I was able for two or three days in bed, and luckily I had my wife looking after me. Everything didn't quite go as planned. But instead of flying up here, we were going to initially fly up here yesterday. We decided when we got home from Silverstone Sunday night, so I decided to fly up Sunday night instead to make sure we're here early and get some more work in and see the golf course a little bit earlier than planned.
Q. Having achieved the stages as a major champion, how does that change the mindset going into another major? Does it make it easier in any way, less pressurised or just the same?
DANNY WILLETT: It's a little bit similar. If anything, probably a bit tougher because you know you've done it and played well and competed and won against the best guys. It's a tough one now to make sure that you get back to the place where you were before you actually won and try to not have too much expectation on yourself every day you go out, otherwise it's a pretty lonely game when things aren't going your way, and you struggle a little bit, because all you have to do is be reminiscing about how well you played a few months ago.
So, yeah, that's one thing we're trying to get over, trying to get our head on and work hard and make sure you keep ticking the boxes like we've done for the last two years and do everything right, and then hopefully come Thursday morning we're ready and prepared and ready to go. Then you can perform like you've been able to do.
Q. Can you confirm if you've made a final decision on Olympic participation now? And how difficult a decision has it been from a family point of view?
DANNY WILLETT: Yeah, it's been a tough decision. There's been a few discussions with me and Nic. It's a tricky one. I think the opportunity was obviously there to be an Olympian and that to me was something that I think was going to be pretty cool. You don't know how many times you will be in the Olympics, if it will be in the Olympics again. Obviously with how people reacted to everything, you're not quite sure.
It was something I wanted to do was to be supporting team Britain in the Olympics and it's something I'm still very much set for going. Hopefully Rosey is too. And then I just think it will be great being around.
Again, like I said, I was fortunate to be able to go to Wimbledon and see Murray play and Federer play, and I was unfortunate to go see Lewis play on Sunday. And being in that environment I think it puts a different spin on our sport and what we do and how hard we work. We get caught up in our own little bubbles at time. As golfers we travel the world and play week to week traveling together, and very rarely do you get to see other people around in their working environment. So to be able to go and see Andy train, go in the gym, maybe bump into a countless number of people that you can go and watch train and see how they do and how hard they work and how they eat, how they rest up, how they recover and ask questions, and see if there's anything you can take from that and bring it back to within how I get ready for tournaments and how I train myself.
Q. Do the other golfers' withdrawals give you second thoughts or do you isolate yourself and make a decision on your own?
DANNY WILLETT: I don't think you can make a decision based on other people's opinions. It's something you can do. I think if we all made decisions on other people's opinions, we'd never get anything done, would we?
No, I was pretty sure all along I wanted to go play unless the threat would have gotten worse, then it would have been a very different story. But from what I understand in speaking to the guys, the threat is lessening every day. It's obviously winter over there, and the guys are taking precautionary measures to make sure things are as safe as possible. So I'm willing to take that little bit of risk that there is and go play.
Q. Just on Rio again, Justin before said he thinks the whole Zika thing might turn out to be a non-event. Would you go along with that? Do you think in hindsight the guys who pulled out may regret that decision?
DANNY WILLETT: I'm not sure it can be routed to 1970s. Only recently has it been published, this, that and the other. Probably because you have 11,000 of the best athletes in the world heading there. You've got more chance of getting malaria in South Africa than you have in getting Zika when you go to Rio. It depends if there's Olympic games down in Johannesburg, would guys pull out because of malaria? I don't really know, you know? It's not really there.
So, yeah, it could be a non-starter. But if there's a risk there, they have to let you know. Then people look into it, they get their own people to look into it, and they go down different avenues of making their decisions. So, yeah, hopefully when we get down there, it's a non-starter and the threat isn't credible.
Again, you look at a lot of people down there in their own sports, a lot of them are inside. We're one of the only sports that are going to be outside for such a long period of time. You look at the golf course, it's obviously very close to the water down in old marshland, where it's been made. So, yes, if you break it down, the risks are probably slightly higher for us than other sports just because of the nature that you could be having five-hour rounds with an hour warm-up and still be outside for long periods of time. And obviously, the mosquitos are going to potentially be there. But like I said, it's winter. The threat level has been lessening every week.
Q. Are you excited to be part of this new generation of English golfers with Tyrrell and Chris Wood, and guys like that who appear to be sparking off each other and making each other or encouraging each other to do well?
DANNY WILLETT: Yeah, I think it's good. You look at not just England but even into Europe there are a lot of good players right now coming up through the ranks from all the countries around us. And I think you see that in the Ryder Cup standings. There are a couple of rookies on that team. Yeah, I think it's good to see the guys playing well, and I think it helps that -- obviously what we did in April kind of spurs guys along to do a bit better and try a bit harder because we play so much golf together. When you see your compatriots doing well and playing good golf, of course, yeah. It spurs you on to realise that some of the other guys, if they play good golf, they can get there as well.
Q. When you going through a period of not playing well, clearly the thing that you want to do is to get out of it and to play well. What is the single most important thing to remember in that time that is likely to help you play well?
DANNY WILLETT: You've just got to remember what got you here in the first place. A lot of guys you see when they start struggling, you sack the caddie, you sack the coach, you sack the putting coach. You get a new psychologist, you probably got to scratch that and go back to basics and realise what got you there in the first place. Go back and have a pretty brutally honest conversation with yourself with what you've been doing. Are you working out enough? Have you been putting enough time in? Have you been dedicating yourself properly and going back through? We've had a couple moments in the last month or so where we're trying to get back on track now with getting back up and working as hard and for longer hours than what we have done in previous months, previous years.
But, again, it's a juggling act trying to juggle everything in and around, and it's all good fun. You see what the top players in the world are doing on a day-to-day basis, and then you take your cap off and realise how good the work they do has to be with the time restrictions that they would have and stuff like that.
Q. And never lose faith?
DANNY WILLETT: Try not to. Easier said than done. Yeah, it's a tricky one. All of a sudden you miss a couple of cuts by one, and you start looking at the ifs and buts and stuff, where before you weren't looking. There are a lot of things that go into it. But, yeah, if you've got a good enough team around you that can pat you on the back when you're doing well and give you a little kick in the rear when you're not actually working hard enough but you might think you're working hard enough, that's what you need. You need the brutal honesty of good people around you.