SHEFFIELD’S Danny Willett was a little late turning up for class at the Masters – but the homework he had done last year meant the only detention he got was to stay behind and receive the coveted green jacket.
Willett triumphed at Augusta just 12 days after becoming a father for the first time.
He was the last man to arrive at Augusta National and took the title after a dramatic final round on Sunday when Jordan Spieth looked certain to become only the fourth player to win back-to-back Masters titles before a stunning collapse around Amen Corner.
Willett’s wife Nicole had been due to give birth to the couple’s first child on Sunday – and the Yorkshireman had talked off giving the Masters a miss – but the need for a C-section meant Zachariah James Willett arrived on March 29 to allow his proud father to play in the year’s first major.
“Fortunately I had done my homework last year,” said Willett.
“We (he and caddie Jonathan Smart) played the golf course probably four or five times last year in preparation for the first Masters I played.
“I think that put me in really good stead, knowing that I had the books from last year and I knew where are the places to go, where not to go, and then just put full faith in the decisions that me and Jon made and made some good swings.”
The 28-year-old son of a Sheffield vicar was the 89th and last player to register after only arriving on Monday evening last week.
It led to his caddie being allocated the No 89 on his white Masters jumpsuit, just as Jack Nicklaus’s son Jackie did in 1986 when he caddied for his father in Nicklaus senior’s historic sixth win.
“What impressed me so much is that when he realised he was in a position to win, he finished it and that’s the mark of a champion,” Nicklaus wrote on Twitter.
“To finish a good round, give yourself an opportunity to win and when the other fellow doesn’t finish, you’ve got to be there. Danny Willett was and kudos to him. What an amazing couple of weeks for him.”
Willett has moved up to N0 9 in the world rankings, and is already targeting further major success.
“Hopefully I can be sat here again at some point in my life. That would be fantastic,” Willett said after a flawless 67 ensured he took advantage of Spieth squandering a five-shot lead with nine holes to play.
“I can’t put it into words. To win golf tournaments on Tour is what we dream of doing. It’s what you practice for and it’s what you play for.
“You dream about these kind of days and things like that, but for them to happen when there’s only four (majors) a year, it’s still mind-boggling that we have been able to come through everything that’s happened and play so well under the pressure.”
His pre-tournament build-up saw the demands on him as a new father take priority over everything else, and he contemplated only travelling to Augusta last Tuesday, despite having played on the notoriously difficult course in competition just once before.
“I didn’t do that great at the Match Play (failing to advance from the group stage in Austin) and flew straight home and then had Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday just doing nothing, helping Nic, making sure she’s all right,” Willett said.
“She had an operation to deliver Zach, so I was just at home making sure she was all right, changing nappies, making bottles, doing everything normal that a dad with a new son does, making sure that everything at home was fine so that I could come here with a clear mind. I started hitting balls again on Friday. I had a lesson Friday, a lesson Saturday, and again took time off Sunday to spend time with Nic and Zach and flew out here late Monday night.”
Spieth had enjoyed a wire-to-wire victory in 2015 and led outright after each of the first three rounds this year, only to collapse on the back nine in a similar fashion to Greg Norman 20 years ago.
Bogeys on the 10th and 11th were followed by a quadruple-bogey seven on the 12th, where his tee shot found Rae’s Creek short of the green.
The 22-year-old then dumped another ball into the water and hit his fifth shot into a greenside bunker.
“You can empathise with him,” Willett added. “He’s played great golf all week. He obviously plays this golf course incredibly well and has finished second, first and second the three times he’s played it.
“What happened was just a bad beat. I just feel fortunate that I was in the position that I was to pounce on the opportunity.
“If I had been five over par then it wouldn’t have mattered what Jordan had done.”
In keeping with tournament tradition, outgoing champion Spieth then had to present Willett with his green jacket – 38 regular – and Willett added: “He just said, ‘Really well played’. He shook my hand like the true gent he is.
“He’s a class act to be able to hold face as he did, obviously hurting like I imagine he would be.
“That shows the character of the guy that you’re going to have up and around the world No 1 spot for the next many, many years.
“Fortunately enough, I’m going to be able to be in that category and playing alongside him.”
You can tell Danny Willett is not afraid of anyone: Page 19.