Ryder Cup: Danny Willett is switched on to team ethos for Cup bow

Sheffields Danny Willett, wearing his green jacket after this years Masters triumph, is aiming for another fantastic week when he makes his Ryder Cup bow at Hazeltine, Minnesota. (Picture: PA)
Sheffields Danny Willett, wearing his green jacket after this years Masters triumph, is aiming for another fantastic week when he makes his Ryder Cup bow at Hazeltine, Minnesota. (Picture: PA)
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He is the Masters champion, an Olympian and now an established member of the game’s elite, and yet there is an element of the fulfilment of a boyhood fantasy about the next chapter in Danny Willett’s annus mirabilis.

A Ryder Cup debut is something he has craved ever since this promising amateur was earmarked for a prosperous career in the professional ranks.

Just because his place in the team has been assured since that stunning back nine won him the green jacket at Augusta way back in April, do not mistake that for a blase attitude.

For the young man who boarded a flight bound for Hazeltine, Minnesota yesterday, was just as much a humble team player in golf’s great biennial duel as he is a major champion.

“I’m going to go there as me, I’m not there as Masters champion, I’m going there as a European team member trying to get points on the board,” Willett told The Yorkshire Post.

“It’s a pretty selfish game for 103 weeks out of 104, then one week every two years you come together as a team. Egos and everything else are left at the door. You go there and unite as a team and you try and do the best that you can, whether that’s in two matches, four, five or just one.”

There is an excited edge to his voice, similar to the one that he could barely contain a little over 18 months ago when he greeted the media to talk about how much he was looking forward to making his Masters debut that Spring.

We all know how quickly he adapted to that particular challenge.

Now the task is to turn that single-minded mentality into one of a self-sacrificing team member.

To do that, Willett has picked the brains of his close friends and ISM stablemates, Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood, the captain and on-field lieutenant who know better than anyone what is required of a player in Ryder Cup week.

There is no invited delegation of friends and playing partners from Rotherham Golf Club coming out to support Willett, no extended family to distract him from the task at hand.

“I want to immerse myself in the team environment,” says Willett, whose entourage numbers just mum, dad and wife Nicole.

“I’m good friends with Darren and Lee so I’ve been able to speak quite openly with those guys. There’s no two better people to talk to about the Ryder Cup than those two.

“I’ve tried to embrace the whole build-up and I’m anxious to get there now.”

If the excitement is coursing now, the last two months have been a picture of measured calm.

Willett has limited playing time in a bid to mix family life with new son Zach, with a desire to rediscover the technique and touch that got lost a little – understandbly so given the sudden increase in demands on his time – after his Masters breakthrough.

“I’ve only played two tournaments in the last seven weeks,” says Willett, who was 12th in the defence of his European Masters and second nine days ago in Italy.

“I’ve been trying to make sure I had plenty of time off to rest up, spend time at home with the family, practice and play two golf courses that I like, to make sure there’s some good scoring in there to lift the confidence.

“Fortunately, I’ve been able to enjoy the build-up, and watch the team develop. A lot of people have had their head down trying to get into the team, whereas I’ve been fortunate to set aside my schedule to try and prepare as well as I can for the Ryder Cup.

“You can’t guarantee that not playing so much and practicing more will work, you might go there and not play very well.

“But, hopefully, at Hazeltine we can play some good golf, embrace the occasion, enjoy the week, and get mixed in with the team and have a fantastic week.”

Winning the Ryder Cup is also on the agenda for this proud son of Sheffield, and to help achieve that goal he has put himself at the mercy of captain Clarke.

Whether it be the nerve-jangling first tee shot on Friday morning, or the No 12 spot in the singles that can make or break a Ryder Cup reputation, the man who has left his green jacket at home for the blue of Europe will do anything asked of him.

“I’ve spoken to Clarkey and I’m open to doing exactly what he says,” adds Willett. “He’s the captain, he knows what he’s doing. Statistically, he’s been looking at where we play best, how we play best under what circumstances.

“I’m very versatile. Put me out one, put me out six, put me out 12. I’m just going to go there and play until the whistle blows, dig in and, hopefully get some points.”

After the strides he has made this year, do not be surprised if Willett instantly looks at home in a Ryder Cup.