Danny Willett of England hit the big time in 2016 when he won the Masters Tournament, his final round of 67 — 5 under par — taking him past a faltering Jordan Spieth.
He was ranked in the top 10 after that tournament, but after injuries and a loss of form he fell outside the top 400. In 2018, after rediscovering his game, he won the season-ending DP World Tour Championship, Dubai. He is now ranked No. 31.
Confidence restored, he is looking forward to returning this week as the defending champion. The following conversation has been edited and condensed.
Your win last year at the DP World Tour Championship was your first victory since you won the Masters. Were there ever times you thought you would never win again?
I went to some pretty dark places for sure and, of course, I worried if I’d ever come back. It was a really tough time. I ended up splitting with my then caddie Jon [Smart] and luckily my best pal Sam Haywood stepped in to help out, but he was also there for support.
I’m lucky to have great support from the team around me, and they always kept believing in me and supporting me throughout those tough times. I was struggling with injury and then got to a point where I felt it was time to go down another avenue with my coaching and started working with Sean Foley.
The main thing Sean and I did, along with my strength and conditioning coach, Kevin Duffy, was to make sure I could swing pain free. It’s been a long rebuilding process, but around March 2018 I managed to play a tournament without taking painkillers, that was in Malaysia and was a huge boost for us all. That then meant we could really start to work on improving the swing and getting more consistency in my game. That obviously came to fruition at the end of last year in winning Dubai.
Golf is such a mental game and can be quite lonely if you’re not playing well. What helped you stay sane?
Sam has kept me sane for sure, but having a good team around me, who all believed in me and trusted the process, always kept me positive when I was at my lowest. Obviously, my wife, Nic, is always supportive and there for me. I was probably quiet and down, so having her and the kids at home to pick me up is massive. Lee Westwood is a good friend, and I definitely took inspiration from his win the week before at the Nedbank Golf Challenge. Paul Waring is a real good friend too, and he would always keep my spirits up.
Thinking back to your win in Dubai, what were your overriding emotions?
I was very relaxed all week, my game was in a really good place, the course suits my game, and having my family and friends out there with me just meant I was in a really good place. I was obviously nervous having not won for such a long time, but I just trusted what we’d worked on and, thankfully, I managed to get it over the line, not without a little bit of drama at the end.
In the end you won by two shots, but how nervy was that final round?
It was only two shots, but obviously it came down to the 17th hole, where I made birdie and Patrick Reed made bogey, so that was a two-shot swing.
How did you celebrate?
I managed to get with my family and friends, and the European Tour had put champagne and drinks on in the clubhouse, so we all had a few drinks. I did actually pop into an Audemars Piguet dinner, who I’m an ambassador for, as they always host a cool day in Dubai on the Monday after the DP World Championship, so it was nice to go and see those guys and celebrate with them too. We actually finished off the night having an extremely late dinner with family and friends.
Do you feel that your game is in the right kind of shape to be competing for another major?
I feel like I’ve shown some form in the majors this year. I played well at the British Open and United States Open, and certainly felt like I put myself in good positions heading into the final round, but I’m just pleased to be playing with more consistency again and hoping that I can keep improving. I’d obviously love to win another one, so will keep trying my best and see where we end up.
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