Danny Willett and fellow Sheffield man Matt Fitzpatrick along with Worksop’s Lee Westwood have all have been coached by Europe’s top golf coach Pete Cowen at his Rotherham academy, writes Andy Hiseman.
Life right now is pretty good for Danny Willett – 2016 Masters Champion.
Having fully transitioned from South Yorkshire junior golfer to global golf superstar, and financially secure for life, Willett also recently became a first-time father when his wife Nicole gave birth to his son Zacharia on March 29th.
And in one of the most public Face Time moments in sporting history, the charismatic 28 year-old Yorkshireman’s joy late last night when sharing his life-changing win with his loved ones from the clubhouse at Augusta National was total, and very moving.
Willett has – emphatically – got his act together. Get your bets for BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2016 in now.
The son of a Sheffield vicar, and a Barnsley secondary school maths teacher, Danny Willett – multi-millionaire Tour golfer, Major-winner and 2016 Masters Champion – is also a product of his own extraordinary talent and determination, and of the tough, competitive golf club culture where England’s Midlands meets the North.
Willett and fellow Sheffield man Matt Fitzpatrick grew up in golf clubs like these, and just along the A57 so did Lee Westwood. All three have been coached by Europe’s top golf coach Pete Cowen at his Rotherham academy
And last night, all three finished in the top seven at The Masters, with Willett claiming the Green Jacket for England, South Yorkshire, and Rotherham Golf Club.
Think about it again. At the 2016 Masters – golf’s annual Mount Everest of a tournament – the winner, the runner-up and the golfer who tied seventh all grew up within twenty miles of each other, in a part of England which – let’s be honest – seldom features when golfers gather to discuss their bucket lists.
And yet Sheffield, the Steel City, clearly has Tour golf in its blood. Just 35 miles down the M1 from its major local sporting rival, Leeds – itself the birthplace of Dr Alister MacKenzie, co-designer of Augusta National with Bobby Jones – Willett has now given Sheffield its own permanent link to the Masters, 4,000 miles away in Georgia.
England’s fourth-largest city, on the land-locked dead centre-line of England, it doesn’t boast majestic links golf courses, and unlike nearby Leeds or Liverpool, Sheffield isn’t generally seen as possessing the sort of golf clubs around which you’d base a week’s golfing holiday.
Growing up learning to play golf in West Yorkshire, just a few miles away, and now living in nearby Barnsley, I know golf clubs like these.
Young golfers respecting senior members, saluting Mister Captain and understanding the hierarchy in dark-stone clubhouses. Playing your way through the Rabbits, Tigers and Scratch teams. Turning up for Sunday morning Winter League golf on frosty hillsides exposed to Pennine and Peak District winds. Harsh northern accents laced with a merciless, biting wit, yet friendly, warm and welcoming. Being the youngster whose handicap is dropping like a stone, winning Men’s club trophies but too young to buy a pint of bitter at the bar afterwards – and waiting for Mum or Dad to drive you home.
You get the impression that Willett is not the type of man who forgets his roots. In partnership with three local golf clubs, he has established the ‘Wee Willetts’, designed to help local youngsters transition from the driving range to the golf course.
The clubs involved – Sitwell Park GC (also designed by MacKenzie) and Phoenix GC in Rotherham, and Bondhay GC closer to Worksop – are an integral part of the Sheffield Union of Golf Clubs, on which fairways Willett and Fitzpatrick learnt the sport.
Clearly their club matches and league games are as good a place as any in the world, right now, to watch young golfing talent emerge.
And so, while Willett and Fitzpatrick both subsequently ventured to the USA to earn their spurs in American college golf, if you really want to spot the next Jack Nicklaus or Lydia Ko, don’t bother studying who beat whom at the NCAA Championships in the States, and don’t concern yourself with understanding the all-conquering wave of South Korean lady golfers.
And maybe the Masters champion will be in the next bay, hitting balls.
Danny Willett www.dannywillett.golf
Andy Hiseman contact details firstname.lastname@example.org | +44 (0)7795 360112 | +44 (0) 1226 781000