Danny Willett has revealed for the first time his intention to pursue his career on the other side of the Atlantic.
The ambitious 26-year-old from Sheffield has had his eyes opened to the opportunities on offer in America since joining leading management company ISM and forcing his way into more major championships across the pond, like this week’s PGA Championship at Valhalla.
The PGA is Willett’s third grand slam event of the summer, and the seventh of his career, but as it stands he is a long way off playing in the most iconic major at Augusta.
The Masters, as well as events like the World Golf Championship in Ohio last week, are open only to the top 50 in the world plus exemptions, and Willett is of the belief that if he is ever to get to that stage, he needs to seriously think about where he plies his trade.
He has grown increasingly disillusioned this year that his greater consistency in Europe has not been rewarded by increased prize money, and more importantly, better world ranking points.
Willett made 18 cuts in a row from October to July before failing to make the weekend at last month’s Open, but has barely moved in the all-important rankings.
“I think it’s a path that most people who want to be at the top of the sport need to take,” said Willett, who is currently 102nd on the world rankings, just 16 places higher than before his creditable run of cuts made began.
“At the same time as we were having the Russian Open in Europe, those guys were playing the Canadian Open with a prize money of $6m and the lads in Russia were playing for a million euros.
“The world ranking points are also massively different. It’s incredibly hard to compete in the world rankings if you play in Europe full-time.
“You need some very good weeks at the right time, whereas in America it doesn’t matter which week it is because they’re all the same money and same ranking points.
“Over in Europe, I’ve had a very consistent start to the year, I didn’t miss a cut until Hoylake, and if that had have been the case in America I’d have been top 15 on the order of merit and $2m richer.
“The issue in Europe is that prize money fluctuates so much between tournaments that it’s almost as if you need to be a little bit streaky and just get lucky with the weeks that you play well.
“You’re hoping it’s Wentworth or the Dunhill Links or a big event like that.”
To break into the top 50 in the world, Willett needs to cash in at opportune times, like this week’s PGA when the ranking points are at their highest.
Because until he does, his American dream will be on hold.
“You can’t put a time-frame on it, you’ve just got to play golf and, hopefully, soon enough it will happen,” said Willett, who adds that he would have no reservations about moving to America where he lived as a student at the University of Alabama for two years.
“You need to be in a position for them to offer you playing rights and then you need to then play well.
“There’s no point going to Q School in November because that only gets you so far nowadays, like the Nationwide Tour.
“You’ve got to get top 50 in the world and then do what a lot of the guys have done, take your card up and just try and play well in the events that you get.”
Willett at least arrives at Valhalla comfortable in his own game.
The neck and back problems that plagued him last year have not subsided totally but they are problems he can manage adequately without them affecting his game too greatly.
As well as a change in management last year, he also switched coaches, ending a long association with England amateur guru Graham Walker to begin working with Pete Cowan disciple Mike Walker, who is enjoying a growing reputation with Lee Westwood and Matt Fitzpatrick under his wing.
“I still keep in touch with Graham to see how things are going,” said Willett.
“It was just one of those things that had run its course. No-one was to blame, these things happen.
“I don’t think either of us really wanted it but I was just trying to see if there was another way to go to try and get out of the slump I’d got in.
“Mike’s a full-time Tour coach as well, which means he’s always there. Graham had his commitments with England so it was tough for him to come out every week but with Mike being at every tournament it just gives you a little bit more time if you need it.”
On the change of management companies, Willett added: “It wasn’t working with my manager before. It’s nice at ISM to have guys that have played the game, that know the ropes, and know how things work.
“You get to do some interesting bits and it’s a really good set up and good bunch of guys, so that was a move that was incredibly easy to make.
“And consistency-wise I’ve had a fantastic year, my stroke average has been very good and I’ve been playing some nice golf.”