Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Danny Willett, champion of the DP World
 
Danny Willett and family  (Getty Images)
"At the end of 2016, I was in contention in the Race to Dubai and I just didn't want to play golf. Think about that. It's utterly ridiculous."
Those were the words of Danny Willett in October 2017, 18 months after his greatest triumph at the Masters Tournament and 11 months before his emotional return to the winner's circle at the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai on Sunday.
To say the 953 days between those two victories has been a roller coaster would be an understatement.
His win at Augusta National was perceived by some to be a shock but Willett arrived in Georgia having finished second on the Race to Dubai the previous season, with a recent huge win at the Dubai Desert Classic and ranked 12th on the Official World Golf Ranking.
His first son Zachariah had also arrived on March 29 and when Willett entered the world's top ten as a Major Champion on April 10, he had the world at his feet.
Fast forward six months and the picture was very different.
Willett had recorded just two further top tens before he arrived at Hazeltine National for his Ryder Cup debut and the spotlight was thrust further upon him after a controversial blog post by his brother.
The rookie did not win a point from any of his three matches as Europe lost for the first time in eight years and when asked to sum up his first Ryder Cup experience, Willett used a single four-letter word.
His best result of the 2016 season in the four remaining events was a tie for 11th and while his form was lacking, his body was letting him down as well.



"They were great tournaments to be able to compete in and win and there was some great things going on in the golfing world, but I wasn't in a position where I was enjoying what I was doing and I was in pain," he said following his win at Jumeirah Golf Estates.
"It's a terrible game for your body, we all know that. You're trying to hit a golf ball 120 miles an hour with a driver that's 44 inches long and it's not a great game for your body to cope with. It's not really meant to do it.
"We were just making a move that kept jarring my back and that's kind of all there was to it. I could work out in the gym all the time, but it was only when swinging that it hurt."
He battled through the pain to make a bright start to the 2017 Race to Dubai, but the two top tens in his first four events were the only ones he recorded all season and in August of 2017 a change was made.

An amicable split with coach Pete Cowen led to a team up with Sean Foley and while results did not come quickly, Willett felt a change almost straight away.
"Pretty quick I knew the things were going to be good pretty quickly body-wise," said Willett, who also gives  strength and conditioning coach Kevin Duffy a lot of credit in his resurgence.
"The moves felt horrendous and the ball flight was horrendous, but I wasn't in pain.
"We set out to be pain-free and we would then put the golfing after that. Foles and I sat down and talked a lot about being around for the next 20, 25 years, and moving in a way that was going to allow me to do that.
"The last kind of six, seven, eight months, I've really taken big strides in what we've been doing because I've been pain-free and been able to work harder."
Second son Noah arrived in December 2017 but on the course and with his new action still bedding in, Willett missed five of his first seven cuts and slipped to 462nd in the world after failing to make the weekend at the BMW PGA Championship.
But Willett was at last pain-free and continued to show his feel for the big occasion with top tens in the Rolex Series at the Italian Open, the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation and the Turkish Airlines Open.
He entered the final day in Dubai in a share of the lead, but two bogeys early on the back nine threatened to derail his round, before he responded with birdies on the 14th, 15th and 17th.
His tee-shot to five feet on the penultimate hole was reminiscent of his putt on the last to win the Dubai Desert Classic in 2016, his putt on the 16th at Augusta National and the outstanding chip on the following hole from over the back of the green to help save par. That kind of supreme mental strength had never left him and now he had his game back too.

"It was a tough old time," he said. "That's why I'm a very lucky man. I've got a fantastic family at home and obviously close family with my brothers and my mum and dad and stuff.
"To have Nic and the kids with me there all the time, you think about how fortunate you are - two healthy boys and a wonderful marriage and golf is golf."
When a smiling, happy Willett bounced into the interview room in Dubai on Sunday holding the trophy he affectionately told the laughing press corps: "Hey, I haven't seen you ******* on a Sunday for a while. Alrighty then."
He may have been turning the air blue in a press room again but the contrast between the Middle East and Minnesota could not have been more stark.
Danny Willett was back

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