Danny Willett learnt golf on a municipal course

Martyn Clapham
By Martyn Clapham April 12, 2016 11:53

The 2016 Masters champion, Danny Willett, learnt golf on municipal golf courses in England and Wales, it has been revealed.

vcsPRAsset_2999329_62755_be00fb9e-1d9c-415d-9ce6-71b4aef65aa9_0 Tom Ward david willett

Danny Willett. Image by Tom Ward

Municipal, or council-run golf courses, have been in decline in recent years as local authorities have cut expenditure on them and sold the land, often to housing developers.

“From a municipal to the Masters! He is an inspiration and shows all the kids in Sheffield what can be achieved if you put your mind to something. He is a great example and if it gets kids out playing, that’s all that matters,” said PGA Advanced Fellow Professional Peter Ball, who first introduced Willett to golf.

Willett played at the municipal Birley Wood Golf Course in Sheffield, now run by SIV, part of the Sheffield City Trust, and when the family spent a two-week holiday in Wales during summer holidays, he played at Llangefni Golf Course, another municipal course that offered affordable golf.

“Danny always had a great determination and work ethic and his ability to stay calm under severe pressure over those closing holes was just incredible,” said Ball.

Ball has coached thousands of kids over the years and the philosophy that inspired Willett is still the one he employs today at Balborough Links and the Moor View Golf Range in Sheffield where he coaches.

“Kids come along, have fun and play a lot of golf. If there is a secret, that’s it. It made me laugh when one of the commentators said Danny might be put off by the noise at Augusta – the racket we used to make on the course, he’s used to anything. That wouldn’t have put him off,” he added.

One staple of Ball’s coaching sessions is that the loser always has to make a cup of tea. That was the gist of Ball’s congratulatory text message to Willett after his Masters victory.

“The last time we played he hit one in the rough so as far as I’m concerned he lost so he still owes me a cup of tea – but as he’s won the Masters I might let him off!” added Ball.

Jonathan Pyle, now Birley Wood’s head professional, used to play against Willett and reckons the tough course in Sheffield served him well at Augusta. “I know it sounds daft, but there was a chip shot he did on the 17th hole and I was thinking: ‘he’ll have learned that here.’ If you can’t chip and putt you’ll struggle at Birley Wood because the greens are so small. It’s funny to think that a Masters champion started here: a tiny little golf course in Sheffield. It just goes to show that golf isn’t just for privileged people,” he said.

AUGUSTA, GEORGIA - APRIL 10: Danny Willett of England celebrates with the green jacket after winning the final round of the 2016 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 10, 2016 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

AUGUSTA, GEORGIA – APRIL 10: Danny Willett of England celebrates with the green jacket after winning the final round of the 2016 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 10, 2016 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

Andy Carnall, golf manager for SIV, said: “Everyone at Birley Wood would like to congratulate Danny on becoming Masters champion. It’s hard to sum up just how big of an achievement it is.

“It doesn’t seem that long ago that a young Danny was making his way around this course and learning the game. We cannot express how proud we are now to see him join some of the sport’s biggest names by receiving that historic green jacket.

“His Masters triumph is fantastic news for both the sport and for Sheffield. Not only do we have Danny, Sheffield’s newest golf star Matthew Fitzpatrick came in seventh and Worksop’s Lee Westwood, one of the finest players over the last decade, was runner up.

“It’s such an exciting time for the sport and this result firmly places the region as a hub for world golf.

“We are currently working with a number of very promising young golf players across SIV’s four courses and what better inspiration for them than seeing Danny Willett’s journey from this very course to being crowned Masters champion at Augusta?

“Let’s see how many more we can produce in the next decade.”

In fact, Danny Willett’s win in The Masters led a remarkable display by English golfers at Augusta – he was accompanied in the top 10 by Lee Westwood (T2), Paul Casey (T4), Matt Fitzpatrick (T7) and Justin Rose (T10).

“Ultimately the performance is down to the player, but many of them have said that the opportunities they have had along the way have been outstanding – whether it’s from a junior organiser at their club, someone running county events, someone offering regional coaching, or the chance to play for England or going to the Walker Cup or Curtis Cup,” said Nigel Edwards, England Golf performance director.

“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. But everyone contributes.”

“Danny had an insatiable appetite for work and for good information,” added Graham Walker, the lead coach to the England Golf men’s squad. “I had good information and he was willing to work very hard. That’s a recipe for success.”


Martyn Clapham
By Martyn Clapham April 12, 2016 11:53
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  1. Paul Warner April 14, 23:06

    The work Peter Ball did for Danny and hundreds of other youngsters laid the foundations for Pete Cowan’s team to work on. At what level was Danny when he was with Pete in his old wooden shack.?
    Peter Ball had begged old clubs from companies that children from every type of background could have the opportunity to play golf.
    He currently works with many disabled golfers and children. Besides laying down the foundations for golf he teaches them to enjoy the game, something often forgotten. Yes well done Danny but even more well done Pete for creating young golfers with the true values.

    Reply to this comment
  2. GP April 14, 15:36

    I cannot believe that Peter Cowans coaching, and England Golf are not mentioned in this and other similar articles I have read. They must be the common denominators that bring Willett, Fitzpatrick and Westwood to the fore. Not Sheffield City council trying to claim that he is product of their great golf strategy! Well done Danny!

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