Danny Willett speaks about his whirlwind 2016 ahead of Abu Dhabi Champs
The Masters champion reveals where he keeps his Green Jacket ahead of this weekend's tournament.Robert Chilton January 17, 2017
Years from now when he’s sitting in a comfortable armchair surrounded by family and reflecting on his life, golfer Danny Willett will perhaps spend more than a few misty-eyed moments thinking back to 2016 – and not because of George Michael, Brexit or Donald Trump.
For it was 2016 that changed Willett’s life forever. In an emotional week, the Englishman – then aged 28 – became a father to son Zach on March 30 and then, on April 10, won the Masters at the famous Augusta course in America. His first major tournament win, Willett became the first European golfer to win the Masters for 17 years. Later that year he made his Ryder Cup debut and then took part in the Rio Olympics.
Now 29 and currently ranked world number 11, Willett arrives in the UAE to play the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this weekend. He spoke to EDGAR about his remarkable 2016 and how fatherhood has changed his golf game.
So come on, where do you keep your green jacket?
It’s just in the house – it’s not actually out on show!
Do you sometimes put it on and walk around the house just for fun?
Not really, no! It’s so great to have and people are always really excited to see it. When I was invited to Wimbledon in the summer, they asked me to wear it but I still had to go through security.
The day after your Masters win last year, what was the biggest change you noticed?
I guess all of a sudden I was someone that people wanted to get a picture or an autograph with.
And what was it like when you arrived home?
The good thing about winning was that when I got home, I just went back to reality. I walked through the door, my wife’s there, the dog jumps up on me and I had a newly born baby to change. So despite what happened I was back to just being a dad and a husband.
How is fatherhood?
It’s been amazing. Zach came at the perfect time, just before the Masters, and with what happened there, it turned out to be a really special and unforgettable couple of weeks.
Has being a dad affected your tournament schedule?
Not really. I took some time off when Zach was born after winning the Masters but it’s more or less been business as usual after that. Nicole and Zach have travelled with me a few times, which is always nice, but I haven’t changed too much.
Do you think being a dad has affected your game in any way – maybe you’re calmer now if you miss a putt?
Being a dad definitely puts your life in perspective and probably makes you think about golf a bit less off the course but that hasn’t changed how much I want to win. This year will be my ninth appearance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship and my best performance was in my first year in 2009 so I’ll be aiming to improve and hopefully be there or thereabouts come Sunday.
Who’s your best pal on the tour?
I get on with lots of the guys but I’m lucky to have Smartie [caddie Jonathan Smart] on the bag. We’ve known each other for a long, long time and I think we work well together. Sam Haywood, who is another caddy, is also a good mate from home.
What’s your favourite hole at Abu Dhabi Golf Club?
There are a lot of long, challenging holes but I’d have to say that the 18th stands out for me. If you can birdie that hole each day and maybe make an eagle when there is an accessible pin, you’re on to a winner.
How do you intend to tackle that hole?
The key is the drive because if you’re in the rough, you can’t reach the green as easily.
As a fan of Liverpool football club, who was your favourite player growing up?
That’s a tough one but it’s hard to say anyone other than Steven Gerrard – he’s a true legend of Liverpool. I recently met Jurgen Klopp and he is such an interesting guy and someone I’m glad that we have as manager.
Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship runs January 19-22.