Champion Willett is on course for tilt at Masters

ON THE UP: Sheffield's Danny Willett.
ON THE UP: Sheffield's Danny Willett.
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Danny Willett has been tipped to break into the world’s top 10 by one of the most influential men in golf.

Andrew ‘Chubby’ Chandler believes the 27-year-old from Sheffield has the game and the temperament to be a future Ryder Cup player and a major contender.

The praise comes in the wake of Willett’s victory at the Nedbank Golf Challenge in Sun City at the weekend, the biggest achievement of his burgeoning career.

Willett’s form has been transformed over the last 18 months, ever since he switched to Chandler’s International Sports Management stable. More doors have opened to him while a more structured schedule has helped the Yorkshireman produce higher levels of consistency in 2014.

His steady climb up the world rankings has been accelerated by his win in South Africa, with yesterday morning’s revised standings showing Willett ranked 56th, his highest ever position.

A top-six finish at the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek in South Africa this week will see him rise into the top 50 in the world and into the Masters for the first time next April.

But his manager, Chandler, believes he should ultimately be aiming higher.

“I’ve been around a lot of good players and there’s no doubt he’s good enough to get to the top 10 in the world,” said Chandler, who has steered the successful careers of Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood over the last two decades.

“I’m not blowing smoke up his backside. Danny can be up there with the very best.

“He’s a young kid still, only a year older than Rory (McIlroy) – though with his receding hairline you wouldn’t think it!”

“I’ve got to know him over the last 18 months and I perhaps realised last winter how good he could be if we got him on the right path.

“He just needed guidance when it came to golf knowledge, that’s all. That and a little reassurance.”

Willett’s victory – the second of his European Tour career – has earned him a place at the WGC Cadillac and Bridgestone events next year. The Masters is his main target, and Chandler believes the more big events he gets into, the greater his chances of making an impression in the game’s defining tournaments.

Willett has already enjoyed his best year in the majors, playing in three and impressively in two of those. But he is yet to mount a sustained challenge.

“For the majors, he needs more experience,” conceded Chandler. “You learn how to play in majors.

“You can’t play aggressively like he did in Sun City in a major. Maybe at the US PGA you can take the bull by the horns, but at a Masters and at an Open it’s a different kettle of fish.

“What Danny has on his side is that he’s a quick learner.

“A good example of that is how he’s learning to manage his long-standing back injury. He flew to Australia recently but withdrew because his back wasn’t right.

“That was a wise move, because if you play injured you can damage your confidence.

“He’s also got a fantastic missus in Nicole. She’s very supportive and always by his side. A good golfer needs a good partner by his side.

“You need a good team around you and Danny’s got that.

“When you listen to him, he never says ‘I’, it’s always ‘we’. He’s very conscious of the team he’s created around him and the importance of that.”

With Chandler’s influence obvious, the next step for the former Yorkshire Amateur champion and Rotherham Golf Club member is to make the move to America.

Willett has already said in this publication this year that he would look at relocating to the PGA Tour once he got close to the top 50, and with the doors Chandler can open, now is the time to make that step.

“I think he’s got to go to America,” said Chandler.

“Over the next few months, he can go and have a see what’s out there for him.

“It’s very difficult travelling back and forth so I think next year now he’ll be able to play in 28 fantastic tournaments.

“We’ll try and get him a few invites next year so he’s got the chance to get more of a feel for it.

“By the time he gets to next August he’ll be in the top 30, 35 in the world and in a good position to start the race for Ryder Cup selection. That’s on the horizon for him now.

“When I saw him hitting balls in the summer I said to him ‘I don’t think you realise how good you are’. He could be as good as anyone out there.

“I was so impressed with how he played over the weekend. He was aggressive to get into position and then stayed aggressive and composed. This is a life-changing win for him.”