May 10, 2016
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – First-time major winners are supposed to bask in the glory of their accomplishments, to vacation in tropical locales, to chug anything and everything out of the trophy. But someone forgot to tell Danny Willett.
Sure, over the past four weeks he has enjoyed the spoils of winning the Masters, but only when he’s not auditioning for a role in the next “Daddy Day Care” movie.
Seriously, when Willett was asked Tuesday about the most interesting thing that’s happened to him over the past month, he offered this:
“Changed a lot of nappies.”
No, sorry, we must not have been clear: The most interesting thing that’s happened.
“That is interesting,” he said with a smile. “Depends on what he’s doing.”
Willett, 28, became a father for the first time in late March, and it was Zachariah’s early arrival that allowed the Englishman to play in the year’s first major. Willett was the last man to enter the tournament, and he also was the last one to leave, after he shot a flawless 67 in the final round and took advantage of Jordan Spieth’s missteps on the back nine.
When he flew back home to England two days later, Willett was mobbed by fans and cameramen eager to congratulate Britain’s first Masters champion in two decades. The media crush continued once he arrived home – when taking out the garbage, he noticed paparazzi camped outside his house.
It was his first glimpse into a life that is forever changed by his Masters victory.
Though Willett was at one point the No. 1-ranked amateur in the world, he has climbed the rankings with relative anonymity, known only by the most ardent golf fans, especially here in the States.
Now, he said, “you can’t go and have a nice quiet drink with the missus. At nighttime you get people asking for pictures, autographs. It comes with the territory. You can’t really complain about signing a few autographs and taking a few pictures, because you’ve just won the Masters.”
Fortunately, his home life has proven to be plenty humbling.
“Coming back down to reality was literally the first day you get back home, you open the door, (wife) Nicole’s there, and the dog jumps up and licks you and you’ve got your little man to change,” he said. “That was straight back down to reality, just being a dad and a husband.”
Willett has watched the final-round replay only once, his first night home. He settled on the couch with a cold beer in his hand, his wife and dog nearby, and the green jacket hanging on the door.
“It’s still not sunk in, to be honest,” he said. “I could still re-watch it now and we could still smile with the shots that we hit and how things unfolded.”
Willett doesn’t wear the green jacket much, or not as often as we’d probably think. He’ll slip it on for interviews. Photo shoots. Sponsor outings. The jacket travels with him, in case he’s booked for some fancy dinner that he wasn’t invited to before. “I don’t want to get it dirty or spill anything on it,” he said.
Since arriving at Sawgrass, Willett has received polite congratulations from his Tour brethren. A stack of flags awaits in his locker, ready to be signed for various charity outings.
The next phase of his career begins Thursday, when he looks to knock off a month’s worth of rust at one of the most demanding tests in golf. Since the Masters, Willett has played 18 holes only once, last Saturday. He’s been busier than anticipated.
Willett had always planned to take a few weeks off after Augusta, to reset before a busy summer schedule, to get away and spend time with his family. But, he said, “it hasn’t really been the quiet four weeks I was expecting.”
No surprise there. Life is different now.
Now the ninth-ranked player in the world, Willett is a virtual lock for both the European Ryder Cup team and England’s Olympic squad. He figures to be judged harshly by what he does next, how he backs up his major breakthrough, but he seems unfazed by the added expectations.
“I’ve got my own set of expectations of what I want to do for myself,” he said, “so I’m not really too fussed about what everybody else thinks. I’m trying to do my bit.”