Danny Willet made heads turn when he became only the second Englishman to win a Masters Tournament. The young golfer from Yorkshire in England has a long career ahead of him and is hopeful to continue with his success, although he has admitted it to feeling the pressure after such a momentous win.
Meta: A brief look into the early life, career, and major achievements of English golfer Danny Willet and his plans for the future.
Not many people had heard of Danny Willett before 2016, but he was slowly and quietly working his way up through the ranks. It wasn’t until the US Masters Tournament that year that we would all learn his name and see what he was capable of, with a result that would blow spectators and golf commentators away.
The 30-year-old golfer might have succeeded at doing what only one other Englishman had done before him, but that’s not the end of him yet. According to Willett, he is working hard to prove to the world that his amazing victory at Augusta National wasn’t just a fluke.
Childhood and Early Interest in Golf
Danny Willett had a childhood that most professional golfers had, showing a keen interest in the sport from an early age and a family that helped him realize his passion. Danny was born on 3rd October 1987 in Sheffield, Yorkshire, England, into a middle-class family.
Danny’s mother, Elisabet, was born in Sweden, and his father, Steve, was a vicar in the Church of England. Growing up, he was one of four brothers all of which took an interest in playing golf. The professional sports star tells how he used to spend hours practicing in a sheep pasture to help him improve his swing.
According to Danny, when the family used to take holidays it would be the Anglesey so they could practice more. In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, he said, “We used to go to Angelsey to play a par three course in the middle of a sheep field.” The practice obviously paid off, as we saw many years later.
After finishing high school, Willet left his hometown of Sheffield to play for Jacksonville University for two seasons after signing with FirstPoint USA. During his time there, he was award the 2006 Ohio Valley Conference Freshman of the year and took home honors in 2007, but left back home without a degree.
Beginnings of a Professional Career
Once back home in Sheffield, Danny began to work at his golf more and entered various tournaments as an amateur. In 2007, he won the English Amateur Championship and by 2008 was ranked the world number one amateur.
In May 2008, he turned professional and earned his very first European Tour Card for the following year’s season by completing qualifying school. That year, he finished 58th at the Race to Dubai and challenged at the 2010 BMW PGA Championship finishing fifth overall. From there, he was moved into the top 100 on the Offical World Golf Ranking List.
By the end of the 2010 season, Willet was ranked 23rd on the Order of Merit, but in 2011 he failed to have any great wins. After a reasonably slow season with only one top 10 placement, he moved down to 91st place on the Order of the Merit.
First Major Victories
Danny finally got a taste of success on the European Tour in 2012 during the BMW International Open in Cologne. During a sudden-death playoff with Marcus Fraser, he gained second place at the Omega European Masters and then earned third place at the Maybank Malaysian Open. These wins, along with another three top 10 finishes pushed him back up on the Order of Merit to 23rd place again.
By 2013, Willett was known as one of the best European players on the Tour and earned 25th place that year in the Race to Dubai. At the end of December 2014, he won the South African Nedbank Golf Challenge, a third place in May 2015 at the WGC-Cadillac Match Play, and a earned a temporary membership for the remainder of the PGA Tour that year.
At the 2015 Open Championship, people began to recognize he was a force to be reckoned with. He managed to stay through 36 holes just one stroke behind leader Dustin Johnson but after slow third and final rounds, he ended with a tie for sixth. This was his best finish to date in a major event.
Willet took home his third European Tour victory at the Omega European Masters and although he technically qualified for a PGA Tour card, he declined to take up the offer for one during the 2015-2016 season.
His Iconic Masters Win
By far his biggest win to date, the 2016 Masters Tournament was the defining moment in Willett’s career, albeit one that nobody saw coming. The Tournament at Augusta National was won after he got five under par after his competition Jordan Spieth started to suffer.
By the time they reached the clubhouse, Willet was the leader still and scored a bogey-free final round of 67 which meant he was the new champion. Spieth, who had won the previous year, finished in second and tied with Lee Westwood.
What made this win so iconic was that Willet was the first Englishman to win the Masters in 20 years with Nick Faldo doing so in 1996. He described the moment as surreal, and after winning accepted his PGA Tour Membership, then moving to 9th place on the Official World Golf Ranking.
With his big Master's win behind him, 2016 wasn’t over for Willett just yet. During the European Tour, he won again at the Dubai Desert Classic and also got 2nd place at the Italian Open. A third place win at the BMW PGA Championship then secured his place in the European team for the 2016 Ryder Cup, as well as making him an early favorite for the Race to Dubai.
Trouble at the Ryder Cup
Willet was thrilled to be joining the Ryder Cup team for Europe in 2016, but before he even made it onto the course there was controversy. His brother, Peter Willet, had some controversial things to say in a National Club Golfer magazine about the upcoming event.
One of his most controversial statements was, “for the Americans to stand a chance of winning, they need their baying mob of imbeciles to caress their egos every step of the way.” Although Danny Willett distanced himself from the comments and publically apologized for them, he was met with boos and taunts throughout his entire game and had many matches without even scoring a point.
Interesting Facts About Danny Willett
Like many other sports stars, there’s a lot about their personal lives that we don’t know. We’ve found some interesting facts about Danny Willett and other pieces of trivia about his career that can give some insight into the Englishman’s life.
Danny Willet represents a group called the “Wee Willetts” that helps children with golf, teaching them skills that move them from the driving range to the course.
Danny almost didn’t compete in the Masters as his wife was pregnant at the time. He claimed if she hadn’t given birth before the final round he wouldn’t have played, but luckily she did on 29th March to their son Zachariah James.
Within just 12 months of being ranked 102nd in the world, Danny moved his way up to 9th place after his most successful year so far in golf.
Danny has a serious obsession with pugs and regularly posts pictures of his own dog, Spike, on social media.
Danny married his wife Nicole in 2013 and she is a regular caddie and cheerleader for the golfer, however not as skilled when it comes to hitting the ball.
Willet claims that he almost quit golf because he was playing so badly after the Masters because of a serious back injury, trouble sleeping, and ongoing painkiller treatment.
Future Plans For Golf
Many golfers go through ebbs and flows in their career, and Danny Willett is sure that he will return to a high point soon enough. “I’m 30,” he said. “I look at Phil and Tiger playing well in their 40s. No reason I can’t get back to playing well and be able to keep playing well for a while. In the grand scheme of a golf career, a lost year-and-a-half isn’t that much.”
With such a huge high point in his career before the age of 30, there’s no telling where Danny Willett will go to next. He has an obvious love for his family and a true passion for golf that will take him places, and the world is very excited to see what things he has to come for his professional golf career.