Augusta Masters champion Danny Willett will add to the cast of major winners when he keeps his promise to play next month’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at the K Club, writes Simon Lewis.
Willett was last night doing the customary New York media tour of late night chat shows that is one of the first duties of a Masters winner as his shock victory at Augusta National on Sunday night began to sink in.
Now he has joined golf’s elite the Englishman, 28, has plenty of new demands, obligations and opportunities to navigate along with the €1.574m pay cheque he collected following his dramatic three-shot win over fallen champion Jordan Spieth and fellow countryman Lee Westwood.
Yet Willett’s immediate schedule will remain intact, insisted manager Chubby Chandler, including a his annual trip to the Irish Open, where he has scored top-10 finishes in each of the last three years.
“Everything sticks the same. He’s even playing the World Cup. That will be the end of his year,” Chandler said. “He’s definitely playing Ireland, definitely playing BMW (PGA Championship), TPC (The Players’), France, maybe Scotland, maybe not, British Open, US PGA, Olympics, Switzerland, Ryder Cup.”
Including the Ryder Cup on his itinerary is no longer presumptious for Chandler on behalf of his client. Willett has rubber-stamped his place on ISM stablemate Darren Clarke’s European team for the four-in-a-row bid at Hazeltine in Minnesota this September.
And as the newly-elevated world number nine, the Yorkshireman is more or less assured of a place for golf’s return to the Olympic family at Rio in August.
Judging by the way he handled the pressure of the back nine at Augusta National, neither event should strike too much terror into Willett’s heart or mind. He had led majors before, topping the leaderboard after 36 holes at last year’s Open Championship, remarkably at five under par, three ahead of Spieth and Westwood.
He would finish tied for sixth, his best placing in a major before Sunday, but nine months on, in his 12th major, Willett got the job done by exactly the same margin against the same rivals.
He joins European greats Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle, Nick Faldo, Ian Woosnam and José Maria Olazabal as winners of the year’s opening major and like the 2015 champion he usurped, Spieth, he won the ‘Green Jacket’ in just his second appearance.
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And while for many this will always be the Masters Spieth threw away, with that awful run of bogey, bogey and quadruple bogey over holes 10, 11 and 12, it still needed someone to take advantage of his misfortune and hold on to what he had gained.
For though the lead fell into Willett’s lap as Spieth floundered at the par-three 12th, he still had plenty of work to do over his remaining three holes, not just in holding his nerve but in advance of the Texan 22-year-old’s inevitable rebound over his last six holes. Willett kept his composure, closing out a more than impressive five-under 67 that was unblemished by bogeys.
That was what caught the attention of none other than six-time Masters champion Jack Nicklaus.
“What impressed me so much is that when he realised he was in a position to win, he finished it,” Nicklaus said on Sunday night, “and that’s the mark of a champion: To finish a good round; give yourself an opportunity to win; and when the other fella doesn’t finish, you’ve got to be there. Danny Willett was and kudos to him. What an amazing couple of weeks for him—from becoming a new father to becoming the latest Masters winner. My congratulations go to Danny for what he did.”
Willett put it less eloquently but he put his success down to his strength of character.
“We’ve been good mental this week,” he said. “Been going through good processes. This golf course can jump up and bite you whenever. Even today, it was relatively flat calm compared to the last few days, but there was just enough there to flicker around to cause a few problems.
“You never feel comfortable on this golf course until you finish and sign the card and posted a number. So yeah, we knew we still had a job to do. At the time we were still only four under par and he had only dropped back to one, so there’s still plenty of holes for him to catch up and keep chasing.
“So it was a really timely birdie on 16, and then again to make contact up 17 and 18 with what goes on and to hit such a nice chip that I did on 17, yeah, it’s just them things.
“You practice, that’s what you do, endless hours chipping, putting, hitting shots, imagining hitting shots at certain golf courses at certain times. And fortunately enough today, I’ve been able to relive some of them dreams and some of them practice sessions.”
This article first appeared in the Irish Examiner.