Hard to believe we’re almost a year removed from Danny Willett’s triumph at Augusta National. Of course, Willett’s improbable victory will always be linked to Jordan Spieth’s perhaps more improbable back-nine collapse.
D-Will, as his wife surely calls him, sat down with the BBC’s Ian Carter as part of a documentary titled “When Danny Won the Masters” (which debuts April 2). His perspective, and that of his caddie Jonathan Smart is both interesting and entertaining.
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The Englishman, if you’ll recall, began the day three shots behind Jordan Spieth. He was playing four groups ahead of the final players and was paired with Lee Westwood. As he made the turn to the back nine, Willett and his caddie knew the chase was on.
Danny’s reaction when he realized he was in contention at the Masters on Sunday? Laughter.
“Jonny: We made an unbelievable par save on the ninth; it was the smelliest nine-footer down the hill and it kept us going. Then we had our funniest moment of the week walking down the 10th fairway. Danny said: “We’re in contention on Sunday at the Masters.” We were like little kids. We were laughing, not in disbelief, but at realising the situation we were in.”
Willett thought the scoreboard operators made a mistake when they posted Spieth’s score after the 12th hole.
“Danny: It’s just off the back right of 15 and Jordan had gone from five under to one under on the par-three 12th and we were at four under. So we looked at each other and waited for them to change the score because we thought they’ve got it wrong. After five or 10 steps, we realised we were at four, Westwood at three and Jordan at one.”
Willett was so nervous after taking the lead, he nearly peed on himself.
“Danny: I’d been dying for the bathroom so I ran down past the 16th tee and everyone’s saying ‘look at the leaderboard, you’re leading the Masters’. I’m in the bathroom and my hands are shaking and I’m nervous but thinking ‘this is what you practise for’.”
His chip at the 17th to save par was key.
“Danny: I chipped it pretty much stone dead, which, round Augusta, you don’t do. I’m going to go back this year and put a ball down and just see how difficult it is.”
…and he was shaking like a leaf on a tree as he stepped up to the tee at the 18th hole.
Danny: I hit it 295 yards, straight down the middle of the fairway. Again, the hands were shaking, everything was shaking, but the walk up to the second shot was pretty enjoyable.
Smart (smartly) offered a timely bit of comic relief as Willett prepared to seal the deal.
“Jonny: There’s a dip down before you walk up the hill to the green. As we got to the bottom, he took a massive deep breath. I knew he was nervous so I just said to him: ‘You don’t need to take that deep a breath, it’s not that big a hill.'”
In all of this, though, Willett’s closing remarks are the most telling regarding what type of guy he is: humble, dedicated, all class. It’s profoundly unfortunate that such truths have been obscured thanks to a tongue-in-cheek essay from his brother, P.J., ahead of last year’s Ryder Cup.
Here’s what Willett had to say about how he celebrated when he finally got home to his wife, Nicole.
“Danny: When you walk through the door at home, you’re not Masters champion any more. You’re dad, or Dan. You’re straight back to changing nappies and you take the jacket off so you don’t get anything on it. The only time I’ve watched it back was that evening. I opened a beer and sat on the sofa with Nic. Watched it for an hour and a half.”
Willett comes off as a guy too “normal” and dedicated to his friends and family to be imbued with the ruthless self-interest and killer instinct we usually assume top-performers need. But as the example of family man Jack Nicklaus shows, top golfers can be devoted husbands and fathers and assassins inside the ropes.
It’s hard not to root for Willett’s continued success as he prepares to defend his green jacket at Augusta National.