DANNY Willett’s Green Jacket will always take pride of place in his locker, but an England team blazer remains dear to his heart.
In fact, the 2016 Masters champion rates playing as an amateur in the Home Internationals for England as his favourite team golf experience.
But given his experiences as a member of Darren Clarke’s team at the 2016 Ryder Cup, when he was at the centre of a media storm created by a magazine interview given by his brother, that might not be such a surprise.
But there were several more surprises in a wide-ranging, open and honest online Q&A session, which Willett conducted with England Golf coaches and players.
He carded a brilliant final round 67 to win the Masters by three shots from defending champion Jordan Spieth and Lee Westwood.
To date, it remains the greatest achievement of the Yorkshireman’s career although his first victory on home soil – in last year’s BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth – was another major milestone.
And it was a hot topic for discussion during another lively webchat hosted by England performance director Nigel Edwards.
Willett, Lowry, McIlroy, Wood and Edwards featured in elite contests
BOTH Willett and Edwards share more than an England Golf connection.
In 2007, they were part of the GB&I Walker Cup squad – also featuring Rory McIlroy – which narrowly lost out to a star-studded American side including Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson and Webb Simpson, at Royal County Down.
The pair were also in the same European team that won the Michael Bonnallack Trophy in 2008, beating Asia- Pacific at Valderrama, alongside Gloucestershire’s future Ryder Cup player Chris Wood, and last year’s Open Champion Shane Lowry.
Willett – currently based in Florida’s Isleworth, as he waits for the tours to start on both sides of the pond – talked through his amazing work ethic, his attention to detail and the processes he has followed all his career.
And he recalled with fondness an amateur career during which he won the Australian Strokeplay, the Spanish Amateur and English Amateur en route to becoming No. 1 on the World Amateur Golf Rankings.
Willett said: “I loved everything about team golf with England when you had a group of guys taking on Wales, Scotland and Ireland.
“You maybe had 40-50 of the best players from the UK there and you were trying to impress for Walker Cup places and Jacques Leglise teams.
“You wanted to beat everyone, you certainly didn’t want to lose to a rival country. But there was still a great camaraderie.
“Yorkshire normally had quite a good bunch and we were well represented.
“But you caught up with people you hadn’t seen since the last event and I was good pals with Oliver Fisher and Tom Sherrard among others, and it was great to get everyone together.”
Danny has not been back to Royal St George since English Amateur victory in 2007
WILLETT, who was a junior at Rotherham GC, has won seven times on Tour and, at 32 years of age, has arguably yet to reach his prime.
As a youth, Willett was always earmarked for a great career – and his English Amateur win at Royal St George’s in 2007 remains a landmark moment.
“It was a great week,” recalled Willett who beat Matt Cryer 3&2 to lift the silverware.
“I played a lot of good players that week and then beat Matt in the final.
“It was the end of a pretty exceptional summer and the culmination of lot of good golf that I played at that time.
“To win any event is brilliant – to win on home soil in front of England officials and organisers it was a really special one to get it under your belt.
“It was a great golf course to win on too – and I’ll now need to wait until next year to go back with this year’s Open postponed.
“Oddly enough I haven’t played there since I won the English Amateur.
“I was looking forward to going back – but it’s more just looking forward to The Open as an event.
“For an Englishman, The Open in England is truly special just as it is for a Scotsman in Scotland or the Irish boys last year at Portrush.
“You take Opens wherever they are – they are always phenomenal, but it’s great to get a home crowd.
“I have fond memories of that place and it’s been a helluva long time since I played it. To go back as professional with a different golf game would have been a lot of fun.”
Willett has seven victories on the European Tour to his name – he also claimed the biggest cash prize in 2018 by winning the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.
Rotherham still producing top teenage talents
AS a Yorkshireman, Willett remain fiercely proud of his home county and still keeps one eye on the amateur game.
The rise of Rotherham’s Ben Schmidt in the last year has caught his attention.
Willett added:”I still chat to Graham Walker about the lads coming up through Yorkshire and different bits and bobs.
“There are a couple of players in Yorkshire – Ben being one – and I keep track even though life is busy.
“I’ve tried to help him out for a few things here and there. He’s young, but he has to keep working hard and see where he gets.
“It’s good and well winning, but the scores he was posting were the thing to look out for. That’s the impressive part.
“He’s also won in Australia and if you have a game that travels, then that’s a good thing.”
•Next in line for the England squads is a Q&A with Ryder Cup player and European Tour winner Chris Wood.
Matt Wallace, Matt Fitzpatrick, Tommy Fleetwood, Meghan MacLaren and Bronte Law have all hosted similar sessions.