In 15 PGA Tour events since winning the 2016 Masters, Danny Willett has zero top 25s. He hasn’t sniffed a win on the PGA Tour, and he hasn’t been a whole lot better on the European Tour, either. There he has four top 10s in 32 events post-Masters, but none since February of this year.
Willett has struggled through injury, switched coaches, switched caddies and grinded his way through nearly two years of frustration. He wrote about that recently for the European Tour, and it was incredibly candid (and excellent).
There’s been quite a few low points over the last few months. At the end of 2016 I was in contention in the Race to Dubai and I just didn’t want to play golf. Think about that. It’s utterly ridiculous. I had entered the HSBC Champions in China, Turkey, Nedbank and Dubai – four of the biggest tournaments of the year – and I didn’t want to play. I just didn’t feel good enough to compete.
He did play and went on to finish runner up to Henrik Stenson, but Willett felt like he was going through the motions. Still, he said one of the things that has kept him going is that final round 67 to take the green jacket. It will always be remembered as the Masters that Jordan Spieth lost, but a 5-under 67 to take home the granddaddy of them all is no small thing.
There’s not a day that goes by when I don’t think about winning the Masters. I think about nearly every shot that week. I remember how I felt at each point throughout the week. It’s amazing how you get the same feelings on weeks when you win or do well. Clearly it’s not easy to replicate that feeling but once you’ve had them, you’ll let them go and that week in April was unforgettable to say the least.
It’s a gift that’s kept on giving, too. Willett noted that a turning point for him over the last nearly two years was the champions dinner at Augusta National earlier this year with players like Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus.
The Champions Dinner on the Tuesday night was a real eye opener for me. Sitting around a table full of these legends of the game, all telling stories of Arnold Palmer and Augusta, it really inspired me and gave me the boost I needed to look for help. After Augusta, I began opening up to friends and people around me and trying to take a look at what I could do to improve. It wouldn’t be an easy few months but I still look back on that dinner and tell myself there was a reason I had a name card and a place at that table. I had earned an invitation and I often find myself remembering that meal.
The real lesson here, to me, is that golf is a forever journey. You’ve never really arrived. You never really fade away. You just play and play and convince yourself you can figure the thing out, even though you know deep down that you cannot. Willett seems to be coming to grips with this at a young age (he’s still just 30), which portends well for the future.
It’s impossible to describe the feeling. I don’t care what drugs people might take or things people might do to seek pleasure and joy, it honestly can’t match stiffing a long iron or making a crucial putt on a Sunday in contention in a golf tournament.
Hopefully, he’ll start doing both of those things again very soon.