Danny Willett didn’t just win the Masters in April – he bagged everything that comes with being the first Brit to win at Augusta National since Nick Faldo in 1996.
The Green Jacket could be worth up to £5 million in bonuses and new endorsements. There’s a GB Olympic team and Ryder Cup debut on the cards. The public has a new level of expectation for the 28-year-old. While there are added pressures from the media, from sponsors, from people in the street who now recognise his face… even from himself.
We caught up with Willett to find out how his life has changed since the evening of April 11, when Jordan Spieth slipped that jacket over his shoulders.
What have you done since Augusta?
Drunk more! No, I was going to take a few weeks off, but it’s just been chaos back home with media interviews and stuff, so it’s not really been the quiet four weeks I was expecting. In a good way, obviously.
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve done since The Masters?
Changed lots of nappies! We haven’t really done a great deal to be honest. Every single spare minute we’ve had, we have locked the door and tried to have some alone time.
Have you changed more nappies or signed more Masters flags?
Definitely signed more Masters flags, but I’ve changed a few nappies, too.
Do you approach the game with a different mindset now you’re a Masters champion?
No, the approach is always the same. I’ve got my little checklist of things I want to try to do day-to-day to achieve. I’ll approach it the same as I approached Augusta, as I approached the week before that, and do the bits I can do and take care of my little jobs every day. If you do all that you can hopefully shoot some good numbers.
What is on that checklist?
I couldn’t go through them all. It’s different areas of your game that you feel you need to work on for a particular course. Different shots that you’re going to have to hit off the tee, or into greens. Just making sure you give yourself the best chance.
Have you worn the jacket much?
Every tournament there’s media and things that you’ve got to attend with the jacket. Dinners. I probably wear it a lot less than most people think. I don’t want to get it dirty. I haven’t worn it to change any nappies – you can’t trust him when you’re changing him.
What kind of reaction have you had from people at home, on tour, in the supermarket?
It’s been cool. Most times you get a trophy that comes with a poster a few weeks later and it goes in the trophy cabinet in the house, and you look at it every now and again. But the jacket is different. There’s so much history around it. So the reaction has been fantastic.
Have you watched the final round much?
I’ve only watched it back once. On the Tuesday night I got back with Nick. I had a beer and watched it back and smiled to myself and realised what I’d done. Then it was back to day-to-day daddy duties.
Your brother PJ acquired a certain amount of fame on social media. Have you said anything to him?
No, no, he’s fully unleashed on Twitter these days. No, all the stuff he said was funny, giving a little insight into what we used to do as kids. I’ve seen him a couple of times and we didn’t talk a great deal about it, to be honest. That’s the nice thing about when I get to go home, we don’t speak about golf. We speak about everything else other than golf.
Your career has taken off so quickly, do you ever pinch yourself?
Yeah, it’s been a pretty crazy 18 months. But I knew it was in there. You dream about it and you practise hard for it, and then when it does happen, I guess you have got to pinch yourself and appreciate just what you’ve done. It’s still not sunk in to be honest.
Are you recognised more when you’re out?
A little more. It’s tougher to do normal day-to-day things. You can’t go and have a nice quiet drink with the missus and stuff. At night time you get people asking for pictures, autographs. It comes with the territory. You can’t really complain about signing a few autographs and taking a few pictures because you’ve just won the Masters. No, I mean, coming back down to reality was literally the first day you get back home, you open the door, Nick’s there, and the dog jumps up and licks you and you’ve got your little man to change. So that was straight back down to reality.
Have you come to terms with the expectation on your shoulders now you’re a Major winner?
Yeah, I mean public expectations are what they are. I’ve got my own set of expectations of what I want to do for myself, so I’m not really too fussed about what everybody else thinks; I’m trying to do my bit. If I do that, and what I’ve done over the last 18 months, I can do some pretty special things.
Was there ever a point when you thought Jordan’s advantage was too big to overturn?
I thought we had to get to six or seven [under par]. Every time we seemed to make up ground, Jordan kept pulling ahead. It was just a very surreal day when you look back at the ebbs and flows. I wasn’t quite sure it [a 67] was going to be enough, but to win by three is pretty special. I still can’t believe I’m going to be in the Champions locker room. It really boggles me.
When did you first realise that you were leading the tournament?
There was a lot of noise when I was walking off 15 and the scores were being put up on the leaderboard. But it was just before I teed off on 16 that I actually realised what had happened to Jordan on 12 and that I was leading by one.
Did it change how you approached the last three holes?
I didn’t really change my mentality as Jon (caddy) and I had a game plan and we had been aggressive all day. It got us into a great position, so we didn’t want to change anything. Fortunately, I managed to make birdie on 16.
How much did playing with Lee help?
I couldn’t have asked for a better pairing really, especially on a Sunday in a Major. We both played some great golf and I didn’t even have a bogey, which going around this golf course is pretty spectacular. We were kind of egging each other on to do well. To be able to do it all with a friend is extra special.
It was touch and go whether you were even going to make the tournament. How much did the birth of Zach affect your preparations?
I flew out late Monday night and we were the last guys in at number 89. Fortunately, I had done my homework last year. We played the golf course probably four or five times in preparation for the first Masters I played, and I think that put me in really good stead knowing the places to go and where not to go.
What did Jordan say?
He just said “really well played”, and shook my hand like the classy guy he is. I think he handled himself fantastically well. It couldn’t have been easy coming straight off 18, especially after everything that happened, and heading into Butler Cabin for the prize-giving. He’s got a lot of character and I’ve got to take my hat off to him.
Have you given any thought to the Champion’s Dinner next year? Will Yorkshire puddings be on the menu?
I am sure they will be featuring somewhere, but I haven’t given it too much thought. It could be quintessentially British, I guess, followed by a couple of nice bottles of red. It’s a fantastic thing to be able to host.
THE COACH’S VIEW
Pete Cowen on Danny’s strengths…
Did you always think he could win a Major?
I never know whether anyone can win a Major. But when the door opened, he walked straight through it. Some players get the opportunity to win a Major and don’t take it – but they’re good enough to win Majors.
What did you work on before Augusta?
Nothing, because he is doing the right things, all the time. His game can suit any course, so we just work on good mechanics. And then under pressure, he can trust his technique.
How often does Danny see you for advice?
All the time. He lives 10 minutes from my range, so he’ll come and hit loads of balls, go to the gym, and then comes back.
What does he do fitness-wise?
He works on his body action being perfect. We believe if you get the engine working well, everything else follows.
How has his swing developed?
It’s developed because he’s had a bad back, so we need to make sure he doesn’t injure himself, and his old technique caused the problem. If your technique is good there should be no stress on the back.
How do you rate his short game?
Unbelievable! At Doral I think he was 18 out of 20 for bunkers. That chip on 17 at Augusta… people don’t know how difficult that was. Justin Rose was 20-foot closer – putting – and didn’t get it within eight feet.
What’s Danny’s greatest strength?
Consistency in the movement of his body. So many players don’t spend enough time working on their engine – the body. If the engine is out of control, the swing is out of control. Also people don’t realise how mentally strong he is.