Danny Willett was on Cloud 9 when he disembarked at the Manchester airport. Paparazzi swarmed in his wake, trying to capture the perfect shot of the North’s brand new homegrown hero. Reporters doggedly clamored for a word from him, their microphones forming a dense thicket before him all the way to his ride. Enraptured fans thrust their notepads in his direction, eager for him to grace their pages with a paltry drop of ink.
The furor did not cease when he arrived at his home in Sheffield. The press seemed to have sprouted on the lawn like an invasive species of toadstool, haranguing him all the way to his door. He was overwhelmed. He had no idea becoming a champion in a niche sport would resonate so profoundly in hearts and minds back home. Then, his son peed on his leg.
He’d been in a mall in Sheffield with three-week old Zach when he was doused in his son’s urine. A routine moment in any father-son moment, perhaps. However, with this particular baptism came an epiphany.
“The little man peed on my leg while I was feeding him. All the way through his vest and onto my jeans. Not a good look. That’s when it’s back to reality.”
Believe it or not, Willett’s grateful for this not-so-pleasant diversion. It’s been a surreal, claustrophobic experience navigating his newfound fame and he’s hinted that the temptation to go into hiding is an ever present threat.
“Manchester airport was bonkers. They’d not seen that many press there since Lionel Messi and Barcelona came over.
“Then there were paparazzi outside the house, waiting for me to put the bins out. People want autographs and pictures and I can see why some top athletes go into hibernation because it’s invasive.”
Not that he wouldn’t have done the same, on the other side of the equation.
“But that’s just our nature as humans. Five years ago, if Tiger Woods had walked past me, I’d have asked for a picture.”
There’s a subtle acknowledgement hiding in that sentence. Danny Willett is now where Tiger Woods once was. It’s now impossible for him to go back to being comfortably under the radar and he will now have to face a life that’s more or less constantly under scrutiny. The only people who don’t view him differently are loyal friends and family. Despite the Green jacket hanging up on their living room wall, Zach isn’t discriminating between his celebrity father and another lowly mortal to serve as a de facto toilet. And Willett is glad for this tiny nod towards his mere humanity.
For now, he plans on cultivating at atmosphere of normality by keeping things as much as they always were as much as he possibly can.
“Over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to meet up with the lads, have a few drinks, meet up with the family and have a nice meal. Then have some time where me and Nic lock the door, turn the phones off and just be a normal family again.”
But don’t get him wrong. There have been some perks to the high-profile life. Among them are the many congratulatory calls he’s received from what he calls “a lot of great sportspeople”. He’s particularly chuffed with one of them.
“Rory [McIlroy] is the best golfer in the world and I don’t care what the rankings say, so I really appreciated his words. I couldn’t repeat most of them. There were quite a few swear words in there!”
When the likes of Rory McIlroy have you on speed dial, you’re kind of winning at life no matter what, eh?