Cape Town - When Danny Willett came through 36 holes of this year’s Open only one shot off the lead he received a text message from his mother saying, “Well done. You’ve made the cut”.
Even his own British media seemed surprised at his performance at St Andrews.
But anybody who saw him win the 2014 Nedbank Golf Challenge would have expected nothing less from the Englishman.
His 66 on the final day at Sun City to win by four strokes was as composed a final round as has been seen in the history of “Africa’s Major”.
It was quite easily the biggest victory of Willett’s career, surpassing his then only other European Tour win in the 2012 BMW International Open.
And it set up an incredible start to the European Tour’s 2015 season, which also included a finish of fourth in the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek and then a third win in the Omega European Masters.
It’s been an incredible rise that has at times felt a bit surreal for even Willett, and which really hit home when he stepped onto the first tee at Augusta National for his first appearance in the Masters this year.
Willett recalled how he used to play golf on a little par three course that was in the middle of a sheep field.
“You skip it forward 17 years and you’ve got an invite to the Masters. It’s just a bit crazy really,” he said in April.
Willett hardly burst out of nowhere though. The son of an English vicar was introduced to golf by his two older brothers and had a distinguished amateur career, including victories in the English Amateur, Australian Amateur and Spanish Amateur as well as being ranked the number one amateur in the world in 2008.
He turned professional later that year and qualified for the European Tour at his first attempt through the qualifying school. In 2009 he had eight top-10s and comfortably retained his card, and by 2010 he had broken into the top 100 on the world rankings.
In 2012 he made his European Tour breakthrough with a victory in the BMW International Open on the European Tour. He suffered with a back injury in 2013 and 2014 and then came a memorable 2015 season.
His golf at Sun City in December 2014 earned him a new fan in legendary cricketer Geoff Boycott.
“I have watched Willett before, winning the Nedbank in Sun City. He played out of his skin. It was a big tournament to win against some of the world’s best players and it gave him a lot of confidence,” he said as Willett was challenging for The Open this year.
His Sun City triumph saw Willett join two of the greats of English golf to have won at the Gary Player Country Club – Sir Nick Faldo and Lee Westwood.
“Those are some pretty good names to be next to. You see all those names on the walk to the ninth green, and you realise how many great players have been here. Words can’t describe it,” said Willett.
And he also paid tribute to a world-class tournament that since 1981 has set its own benchmark in tournament golf.
“I don’t care how good your PGA Tour event is, it’s not going to match up to a week like this.”
Born: October 3, 1987.
Turned pro: 2008.
Family: Wife - Nicole.
Special interests: Football, music, pool.
Career highlights: Claimed the biggest victory of his career in the 2014 Nedbank Golf Challenge for one of his three wins on the European Tour. As an amateur won the English Amateur, Australian Amateur and Spanish Amateur and was ranked number one in the world in 2008.
2015 highlights: Won the Omega European Masters with a second round of 62. Finished third in the WGC-Cadillac Match Play Championship. Challenged for The Open and eventually finished tied sixth for his best result in a Major.
2015 Majors: The Masters - T38. The US Open - MC. The Open - T6. The PGA Championship - T54
NGC record: Second appearance. 2014 - 1st.