Danny Willett has become only the second Englishman to win the prestigious Masters Tournament – the other being Nick Faldo – in the golf competition’s 82-year history.
The Sheffield-born golfer’s dramatic race to don the famous green jacket is a shot in the arm for English golf and his remarkable display could help create a new generation of players.
“This is inspirational,” said Nigel Edwards, England Golf performance director. “The media are going crazy and hopefully we can have another surge of interest, as there was for European golf in the 80s and 90s.”
While Willett’s win was a shock to most golf fans, those familiar with his progress – and the training opportunities offered to him by the game’s national governing body – might be less surprised. England Golf’s training programme offers coaching and playing opportunities to the country’s most talented players.
For Willett that has meant trips to Australia – where he won the Australian stroke play championship – and to Spain, where he won the Spanish amateur cup before turning professional as the world number one amateur golfer in May 2008.
“Ultimately the performance is down to the player,” says Edwards. “But many of the players have said the opportunities they’ve had along the way have been outstanding – whether it’s from a junior organiser at their club, someone running county events or the chance to play for England or at the Walker Cup.
“Our England Golf ambassador, Justin Rose, has said that the opportunities England gave him when he was young, to compete around the world, were crucial to his development. Obviously, it’s down to the player, whether they have the heart and the will to put in the hard work – whether they have the desire to succeed. But all these experiences contribute to this success.”
Edwards’s words were echoed by Graham Walker, the lead coach to the England Golf men’s squad. He was Danny Willett’s coach for more than a decade, taking him from a two-handicapper to being the world’s number one amateur.
“For an Englishman to win the Masters is just fantastic and it should be an inspiration to lots of players coming through. But they have to make sure they work at the right things,” said Walker.