SPOTY 2016: Danny Willett honoured to be golf’s flag-bearer

Zachariah arrived just in time to allow father Danny Willett, seen with wife Nicole, to compete ' and win ' the Masters (Picture: PA).
Zachariah arrived just in time to allow father Danny Willett, seen with wife Nicole, to compete ' and win ' the Masters (Picture: PA).
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aS MASTERS champion, Danny Willett has enjoyed front row seats at some of the summer’s biggest sporting occasions, including Wimbledon and the British Grand Prix.

Tomorrow in Birmingham the Sheffielder will have one of the best seats in the house as one of 16 stars nominated for BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year award.

Willett is honoured to be considered for the award and is especially pleased that it will place golf in front of a massive TV audience.

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“It is a great honour for me and it’s really good for golf to keep us on that global page with the other athletes and for it to be seen as a proper sport,” said the 29-year-old, who – with his victory at Augusta – became only the second Englishman after Sir Nick Faldo to be handed one of the coveted green jackets that go with the title.

Being abroad in years gone by has prevented him from regularly watching the annual end-of-year show that highlights the deeds of heroes across the full sporting spectrum.

“I have not watched it loads in recent years, but it is a fantastic way of bringing loads of sports together and recognising fantastic achievements that you might not ordinarily recognise,” he said.

“It is not as if they always give it to a footballer; they do branch out and look at loads and loads of different sports and I think that is the great thing with it – the diversity and how it brings all sports together.

“It will be nice to catch up with a few of the people there and to appreciate what everyone else who is there in Birmingham on Sunday night has achieved as well in their respective sports.”

If they are allowed to stay up. members of Wee Willetts – an organisation set up in South Yorkshire to promote junior golf – will be cheering on their hero, and its patron.

It is one of the ways in which the Masters champion gives back to a game that he is quick to acknowledge has given him so much, both during his days as the No 1 amateur in the world and now as a major title-winner in the professional sphere.

The most wee Willett of all, his and wife Nicole’s eight-month-old son Zachariah, will be at home in Worksop in the care of his grandparents, Steve and Elisabet.

Willett agrees with the suggestion that of all the wonderful things that have happened to him this year, Zachariah comes top of the list.

“Especially when he sleeps through for 11 hours,” laughed Willett.

Zachariah’s birth is a delightful strand that glints like gold in the fabric of Willett’s victory at Augusta.

His imminent arrival had raised doubts over his father’s participation in the Masters.

But with timing that he will no doubt claim, in future years, was as important as any of Willett senior’s back-nine birdies in the final round, Zachariah entered the world early.

It was as if the golfing gods had slated the story that unfolded, as Willett acknowledges.

“It kind of is when you look back,” he said. “If Zachariah had have come even on the Saturday or the Sunday (before the Masters) it would’ve been difficult for me to fly much earlier than the Tuesday or the Wednesday.

“So for him to come that late on in pregnancy where he was fully healthy, but that early as to where I could get out there – you can talk about fate, this, that or the other, but everything in those 12 days just seemed to slot into position quite nicely.”

While each of the 16 nominees has their own claim to the title as Sports Personality of the Year, there are many within Yorkshire golfing circles who will argue Willett’s case the loudest, not least the aforementioned ‘Wee Willetts’.

“I set up the Wee Willetts to get young kids from around the Yorkshire area involved in golf,” he said. “If they’ve never picked up a club before they can go along and give it a go.

“I was fortunate enough that my first coach (Peter Ball) up at Birley Wood, near where my mum and dad lived, was like that as well.

“He was brilliant with the kids’ coaching and he gave me my first half set of clubs, half a bag of practice balls, waterproofs and shoes, and he let me go up there and practice.

“He coached me for a few years when I was first starting. We didn’t have loads of money.

“I do try and give a little bit back, but there is obviously still more that I can do and I will try to keep that going.

“I am still relatively young within the golfing game and I will keep trying to give back to the local area and the local people.”

Only two golfers have previously won the SPOTY title – Dai Rees, who captained Great Britain & Ireland to Ryder Cup success in 1957 at Lindrick, and the aforementioned Faldo, after the first of his three Masters successess in 1989.

Willett therefore faces a tough battle to win sufficient votes to claim the accolade, but he said: “Hopefully we can get a few votes and will see what happens.

“Me and Nicole are really looking forward to the evening. My mum and dad will be looking after the little man so me and Nicole will be going down with my caddie and his fiancee.

“It will be nice to be in and around it and see the nomination process and how it goes.”

Wife Nicole has been trying to drum up support for Willett on social media since they arrived home from Hong Kong on Monday, but after tomorrow evening the pair will focus on enjoying the countdown to their first Christmas as a family.

“After Sunday we will finally be able to lock the door, get the fire going, open a bottle of wine and just do nothing,” admitted Willett.

“We haven’t really been able to do that for a long long time so it will be really nice to have the family round over Christmas, turn the phone off, lock the door – and just be us again.”