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Masters Champion Willett: ‘I Didn’t Want To Play’

Danny Willett has given a rare insight into his on-course struggles since becoming a major champion. (Photo: Getty Images)
2016 Masters champion Danny Willett has revealed his struggles on the course since his Augusta victory reached such a low point that he didn't want to play some of the richest events the professional game has to offer.

Willett's form slide following his major breakthrough has been so severe that, outwardly, his ability to make two cuts in a row at the recent Portugal Masters and British Masters after changing both caddie and coach earlier in the year seems like a significant step in the right direction.

Willett has opened up about the past 18 months in a compelling blog on the European Tour website.

The 30-year-old revealed that towards the end of last year, despite the possibility of winning the Race to Dubai, he didn’t want to play golf.

Think about that. It’s utterly ridiculous. I had entered the HSBC Champions in China, Turkey, Nedbank and Dubai – four of the biggest tournaments of the year – and I didn’t want to play. I just didn’t feel good enough to compete,” Willett said candidly.

The Sheffield native also said he thinks about his Masters win every day but that it has brought a layer of focus upon him that he was unprepared for.

“Before Augusta I was a good, but ‘normal’ Tour pro,” Willett wrote. 

“After the Masters, every time I went to the range, every time I was on a putting green or in a practice round, there were cameras on you and everything’s being filmed and recorded. That magnifies everything to the nth degree. People that know me, know that I wear my heart on my sleeve and if I’m having a bad day on the course, I’ll show it and if I’m playing well and everything’s great in the world, you can tell. That’s just who I am. When the spotlight was on me constantly, I felt I had to dull that side of me down a little.”

So far in 2017, in 18 strokeplay events, Willett has finished better than T54th only once, when he was T5th at the Maybank Championship in February. He has slipped from 9th in the world rankings after his Masters win to 67th.

But Willett says his dedication off-course is unchanged.

“Very few people know the sacrifices I make to try and be the best golfer I can be,” he said.

“They don’t know that I’ll get up at 5.00am to get some practice in or hit the gym before my son wakes up at 6.30 and I need to help my wife with him. They don’t know that I’m still working my nuts off in the gym and on the range only to go out and shoot a 75.”

Willett missed the cut in his title defence at Augusta but says a major low point came in August at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational when, despite having his dad with him that week, he shot +21 in the no-cut 72-hole event to finish dead last.

“Firestone is a course where you have to drive the ball well, and hit it straight off the tee. Sadly, I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t even hit the golf course. It’s a field with the best players in the world, you have to earn a place in the field yet I was there, looking at those fairways and not seeing a way I could hit the ball straight.”

Willett said it was that week, after chatting with his dad each night, that he decided to change coaches from Mike Walker and Pete Cowen to Canadian instructor Sean Foley.

“When things weren’t going well I was always searching for answers. I’d find myself watching YouTube videos. The number of times I’ve watched clips of my final round at Augusta is ridiculous but I’m always looking for those keys to getting better. I found I was watching other player’s swings that I liked and I came to the conclusion that the things that Sean Foley was doing would be a good fit for me, both professionally and personally.”

Willett also paid tribute to his wife, Nicole, for her support throughout his on-course struggles and insisted that with the help of Foley, he’s found some swing feelings on the course that have given him the belief he can recapture his form.

“No matter how I’m playing now or how my form is, I’m lucky in that I’ve got a memory of performing down the stretch under the biggest pressure possible.

“I don’t care what drugs people might take or things people might do to seek pleasure and joy, it honestly can’t match stiffing a long iron or making a crucial putt on a Sunday in contention in a golf tournament.

“It’s incredible how your mind can just take over and carry you in those situations. You can be visibly shaking on the tee and feeling the pressure of what’s going on, yet you get over the ball and split the fairway. Sometimes you look back after a round or watch something back on television and it’s hard to believe you were actually capable of that.

“I remember being on the 16th tee at Augusta and trying to get to the right page in my yardage book and my hands were shaking so much that I was just shuffling the pages, Jon and I spoke about it afterwards and had a laugh about it.

“There were times I felt I was falling out of love with the game but at the end of the day I’ll never stop loving this game and I won’t, let a few poor results stop me from working to get better.

“Ultimately, I’m a husband, I’m a father (I have another kid coming in December) and I have a Green Jacket hanging up at home. I’m pretty lucky and I never forget that.”

ALISON WHITAKER: JUDGING THE ROUGH

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