Danny Willett: My Green Jacket win was mixed with despair

 | April 05 | 

6 mins read

Danny Willett Big Interview

Speaking exclusively to Betfred, 2016 winner Willett talks candidly about the problems his Major win caused him - and why the current World Golf Rankings system is not fit for purpose.

Danny Willett has revealed winning The Masters was a blessing and a curse which it took two years to get over.

Yorkshireman Willett became only the fourth British player ever to claim the coveted Green Jacket when he stormed to victory in 2016.

But though he had been steadily working his way up the golf rankings leading up to his win, the 36-year-old has exclusively told Betfred how the positives of becoming a Major winner also brought with it draining negatives.

Willett said: “There was good and bad. Everything changed within the golfing world. I became a major champion and there’s not many golfers out there that can say that. That is the big part of it. 

“I was playing very well at the time, being inside the top 20 for a couple of years and the win climbed me into the top 10 in the world. 

“But I was hounded with questions left, right and centre about winning the Grand Slam as is the nature when you win the Green Jacket. For the next two years, I was having cameras all on me whether that was at a putting session or a chipping session. 

“It does get intrusive. I wasn’t fully prepared for the media attention. I’m a lad from Sheffield and I’m pretty good at golf but no one could ever fully expose me to what the public attention is going to be like and how intrusive it’s going to be. I struggled with that at times. 

“At that time, I wanted privacy with (son) Zach being born. The last thing I wanted was to be fully in the public eye all the time. I wanted to close the doors and chill out. 

“I had both sides of it, the highest of highs winning it and then within a couple of years, my golf game deteriorated to being low in the rankings and having injury problems. It was the full rollercoaster of emotions over a two-year period.”

Willett returns to Augusta next week for the 2024 Masters having overcome surgery on a shoulder problem, but the memories of that weekend eight years ago are still lodged in his mind.

He added:It’s gone very fast! It was a crazy week with all the emotions I was going through with Zach being born and how the week panned out. 

“I never felt overly stressed until the last few holes where I realised I had a chance to go win the tournament. 

“You’ve still got to pinch yourself whenever you go back there. It’s the priceless ticket in golf to get your invite back and get that letter for life and go down Magnolia and see all the staff. It’s a fabulous place. Everytime I go back I can still remember the shots and my feelings throughout the week.”

Golf has changed hugely since Willett was victorious at Augusta, with the revolution brought on by the Saudi-backed LIV tour causing huge division across the sport.

One of the biggest issues is around the Golf World Rankings, which virtually ignore all LIV players and also offer fewer points to those playing on the DP World Tour.

The GWR is essentially funded by the PGA in America, and the rankings are nothing like a fair reflection of who are the best players on the planet - as Willett explains.

He said: “The golfing world is in a tricky place with it. I played with Brooks Koepka last year at Augusta in the first two rounds, and it was the most impeccable golf I’ve seen close-up. 

“You can’t tell me he’s not a top five golfer in the world. The rankings will tell you different. 

“Where things are right now, it’s difficult to have rankings because of how you get the ranking points and what happens. I don’t know exactly how the rankings work but unless you’re playing against similar players week in, week out around the world, it’s very difficult to have a grading system that would be wholly accurate. 

“The points in Europe over the last few years have been reduced dramatically which is a real shame for the DP World Tour. It’s going up against certain guys. There’s some criteria in terms of X amount of holes and X amount of players and an open field, it’s a tricky one to get just right. With what’s happened with LIV and them pulling out of the system, it’s just a shame. 

“The likes of Brooks, Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeu are going to be up there and it’s hard to say that they’re not some of the best players in the world so I do question the accuracy of the system.”

It would not be a Masters tournament without the focus on Rory McIlroy and whether he can finally secure the Green Jacket he covets so much.

Augusta victory is all the Northern Irishman needs to complete a career Grand Slam, but McIlroy goes into the week amid concerns over his form and questions of whether he has fallen out of love with the game.

Willett said: “No, that’s people trying to make stories! Rory is a great player and his game in theory should suit Augusta pretty well. It’s a tough thing with certain golf courses where if you’ve had a bad experience, it’s hard to escape that. 

“I’ve had my experiences of golf courses where I’ve had a tough time looking back. When you stand there on certain shots and you don’t like it, they become harder. 

“When he was in a great position to win the Masters back in 2011, it was a tough pill for him to swallow. I think that people talk about Rory’s recent form but we all know golf is a strange game. Golf is a strange game, he hasn’t done this, but you can miss the cut six times in a row and then the next time you can be winning a tournament. 

“There’s no doubt in my mind that he’ll have been at home working hard and practicing to get certain shots right. I think that guys are so focused on certain events and with Rory, he’ll be focused on working on shots that he knows he’ll need that week but that these shots might not have worked in past weeks. 

“I’ve not spoken to him about it but it would be amazing if he can be in contention again and pull it off because for him, if his career finished now, no one would say that he didn’t achieve everything he should have. He’s had a phenomenal career but deep inside, he’ll be thinking he wants to win the Masters, complete the Grand Slam and put his name in the top echelons of golf.”

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