Willett puts his back woes behind him

Danny Willett has learned to take the rough with the smooth since he upset the golfing world by winning the 2016 Masters.

His decline since that glorious day at Augusta National was almost as rapid as his ascent to major championship winner but it was not merely a dramatic loss in form that struck the Yorkshireman low, precipitating a plunge down the world rankings from ninth to 462nd as recently as this May.

As Willett, 30, started collecting missed cuts more regularly than birdies, he was suffering from a severely debilitating back condition, relying on painkillers to survive the rigours of his game.

In search of more permanent relief, he turned last August to Sean Foley, tasking the renowned American swing coach with finding a way to play around the pain which inevitably was destroying his confidence as well as his standing in the sport.

If Willett’s upturn in form is any guide, Foley must have cracked the code.

A tie for eighth at last month’s Italian Open, sixth at Ballyliffin in the Irish Open two weeks ago and a tie for 19th last Sunday at the Scottish Open all point to a player on the rebound.

A first-round, two-under-par 69 at The Open yesterday is further proof and the Englishman can finally begin to see he has left his woes behind.

“You never know,” Willett said after his round. “I’m pretty hopeful we’ll never be in as dark a place as we were. But by the same token, this is a strange old game. You get ebbs and flows and hit a low point, but I’ve really enjoyed golf the last six, seven weeks.

“Even getting the clubs out and going to play at home without having to do two hours of warm-up and go see the physio (was nice).

“Just hit around the golf course for nine holes and hit it pretty good and feel pretty good.

“That kind of just leads you to work a little bit harder, even if it’s just an extra half an hour putting and an extra half an hour hitting balls, whatever it may be. And the little sessions you’re able to do for a bit longer because your body is better and just enables you to gain a little more than you ordinarily would have.

"And then to be able to go home and obviously not have to go through treatment and stuff and do everything. Yeah, it’s nice.

“Regardless of what the golf is and how the golf is, it’s a lot better place to be.

“Sean’s been a massive help. Not only his knowledge on the golf swing, but how we’ve gone about doing it to free off a lot of the pain I was in, but just his demeanour as a person.

“He’s a very charismatic guy, very upbeat, and I think with where I was, I really needed that. So, yeah, we often have little jokes about where we were. We’ve come a good ways.

“That was probably one of the lowest, US PGA (missed cut) last year, US Open (withdrew) were three pretty poor events in terms of how I was mentally and personally and physically. So, yeah, it’s been a pretty good 11 months work.”

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