2016 Masters champion Danny Willett on the highs and lows of winning a Green Jacket

Ahead of the 2024 Masters Tournament, 2016 champion Danny Willett has opened up on the highs and lows of winning the Green Jacket and how it’s touch and go whether he plays in Augusta this year. 

Speaking exclusively to Betfred ahead of the 2024 Masters, Willett also discusses the fallout surrounding the Official World Golf Ranking System, reports of Rory McIlroy falling out of love with golf, and Gareth Bale’s chances of playing in the professional game.

Danny Willett won his first Major title at the Masters in 2016.

I wasn’t fully prepared for media attention after the joy of winning a Green Jacket

There was good and bad. Everything changed within the golfing world. I became a major champion and there are not many golfers out there who can say that. That is the big part of it. I was playing very well at the time, being inside the top 20 for a couple of years and the win climbed me into the top 10 in the world. 

I was hounded with questions left, right, and center about winning the Grand Slam as is the nature when you win the Green Jacket. For the next two years, I was having cameras all on me, whether that was at a putting session or a chipping session. 

It does get intrusive. I wasn’t fully prepared for the media attention. I’m a lad from Sheffield and I’m pretty good at golf but no one could ever fully expose me to what the public attention is going to be like and how intrusive it’s going to be. I struggled with that at times. 

Danny Willett is popular at Augusta having won the 2016 Masters

The two years after the Masters win was a rollercoaster of emotions

It was a crazy week with all the emotions I was going through with Zach being born and how the week panned out. I never felt overly stressed until the last few holes where I realized I had a chance to go win the tournament. 

You’ve still got to pinch yourself whenever you go back there. It’s the priceless ticket in golf to get your invite back and get that letter for life and go down Magnolia and see all the staff. It’s a fabulous place. Every time I go back I can still remember the shots and my feelings throughout the week.

At that time, I wanted privacy with Zach being born. The last thing I wanted was to be fully in the public eye all the time. I wanted to close the doors and chill out. I had both sides of it, the highest of highs winning it and then within a couple of years, my golf game deteriorated to being low in the rankings and having injury problems. It was the full rollercoaster of emotions over a two-year period! 

It’s touch and go whether I play at The Masters, there’s a few areas that need sprucing up

I’m coming back from the injury and had surgery in September. My preparation for Augusta this time round has been really nice. Usually, I head up to Augusta with Nick and the boys along with my grandparents and friends, whereas this year it’s going to be just me and Nick. It’s still touch and go in terms of whether I play at Augusta. 

There are a few areas that need sprucing up but this year has been very quiet compared to seven years ago, which has been nice. I can go under the radar and we’ll see what happens. With The Masters, everyone is chomping at the bit in the golfing world right now; it’s the first time in a long time that everyone’s going to be together. 

In practice rounds, I try to be relaxed. I usually get to Augusta on the Saturday before so I have to be aware not to burn myself out by the time the tournament starts. As amazing a golf course as it is, I try to treat it as a normal golf tournament. I try to be selfish in my preparations and do what’s best for me. Ultimately you go there to try and compete. 

Fans at the Masters are known as

Everything got a little out of proportion from my brother’s comments on American fans – the patrons in Augusta are amazing

You’ve got to remember, I was a collegiate in America. I’d been in front of American fans for a long time. I think the reference was built up around the Ryder Cup. In that week, everything gets a little bit out of proportion. Everyone’s emotions were running high, particularly playing away from home. It’s difficult to play away from home, as both sides have seen. 

One of the best things about playing in Augusta is the patrons are amazing. You get clapped onto the tees and clapped off from the greens. Being a past champion is a big deal so it’s a nice, warm reception and I’m looking forward to getting back. 

With Augusta, I knew it was a massive event. I was one of the best players in Europe. I had some big breaks in US tournaments, getting in the top five of WGC events. The win there puts you on a pedestal in golf. It’s the biggest golf tournament that we play. 

Part and parcel of being a Masters champion is to be able to take the Green jacket to different events for a year. That was pretty cool and makes people recognize you a lot more. 

Brooks Koepka would love to add The Masters to his five Major victories.

The Official World Golf Ranking System fallout is a shame – you can’t tell me Brooks Koepka isn’t a top-five player in the world

The golfing world is in a tricky place with it. I played with Brooks last year at Augusta in the first two rounds and it was the most impeccable golf I’ve seen close-up. You can’t tell me he’s not a top-five golfer in the world. The rankings will tell you differently. 

Where things are right now, it’s difficult to have rankings because of how you get the ranking points and what happens. I’ve not looked into it – I don’t know exactly how the rankings work – but unless you’re playing against similar players week in, week out around the world, it’s very difficult to have a grading system that would be wholly accurate. 

The points in Europe over the last few years have been reduced dramatically, which is a real shame for the DP World Tour. It’s going up against certain guys. There are some criteria in terms of X amount of holes and X amount of players and an open field, it’s a tricky one to get just right. With what’s happened with LIV and them pulling out of the system, it’s just a shame. 

The likes of Brooks, DJ, Bryson, and Sergio are going to be up there and it’s hard to say that they’re not some of the best players in the world so I do question the accuracy of the system.

Rory McIlroy looked set to win the 2011 Masters until disaster struck on the back nine on Sunday.

Reports of Rory McIlroy falling out of love with the game are people trying to make stories

It’s people trying to make stories! Rory is a great player and his game in theory should suit Augusta pretty well. It’s a tough thing with certain golf courses where if you’ve had a bad experience, it’s hard to escape that. I’ve had my experiences of golf courses where I’ve had a tough time looking back. When you stand there on certain shots and you don’t like it, they become harder.

When he was in a great position to win the Masters back in 2011, it was a tough pill for him to swallow. I think that people talk about Rory’s recent form but we all know golf is a strange game. You can miss the cut six times in a row and then the next week you can be winning a tournament. 

There’s no doubt in my mind that he’ll have been at home working hard and practicing to get certain shots right. I think that guys are so focused on certain events and with Rory, he’ll be focused on working on shots that he knows he’ll need that week but that these shots might not have worked in past weeks. 

I’ve not spoken to him about it but it would be amazing if he could be in contention again and pull it off because for him, if his career finished now, no one would say that he didn’t achieve everything he should have. He’s had a phenomenal career but deep inside, he’ll be thinking he wants to win the Masters, complete the Grand Slam, and put his name in the top echelons of golf. 

It’s a tricky time for people to agree on things, more opportunities need to be opened up to players outside the top 100

You’ve got the four majors where the best players in the world are going up against each other. At some point, there may need to be criteria that there are more invites to those outside the top 50 or top 100 players so they can get a dozen of the guys that really want to play. We saw with Brooks last year where he came second at the Masters and won the PGA Championship and got himself catapulted up the rankings and got him a load of world ranking points. 

There are fewer and fewer opportunities to play against full fields. Opening up more opportunities would be my suggestion. We used to have World Golf Championships which have now been scrapped. However, I genuinely think now is a tricky time for people to agree on things. 

Jon Rahm will host The Masters Champions Dinner on the Tuesday evening at Augusta.

I have to pinch myself every time I go to the Masters Champions Dinner

It’s a great place to be, I have to pinch myself every time I go back there! You’re sat in the locker room chatting to the guys before dinner. Looking around and seeing 33 living Masters champions. Out of the whole week, that’s the most surreal part for me. Being across from Jack [Nicklaus] and sitting opposite Gary [Player] with Ben Crenshaw hosting and telling their own personal Masters stories, it’s a special night. 

Jon’s menu looks amazing! Looking back at my menu, I tried to sprinkle mine with a bit of Yorkshire magic. Sergio had a great menu and Hideki’s was amazing. It’s Johnny Rahm’s now so we’re trying to keep it worldwide and keep taking it global!

Gareth Bale played in the 2023 BMW PGA Championship Pro-Am at Wentworth.

Gareth Bale is great at golf but there’s a big difference between those playing off a plus one compared to those that play professional golf

Bale is good. I saw him at an AT&T Pro-Am a couple of years ago. Harry Kane is also good but Gareth is a good way in front in terms of the football lads that play golf. 

Steph Curry is the best in the basketball world. But with golf, you can be a good player off plus one or plus two but there’s a big difference between those players and ones that can get a card and play professional golf. 

We get the chance to play with great people and great businessmen from different sports through the Pro-Am Tour. It’s great to speak to guys who have done exceptional things in the past. 

SUBSCRIBE TO TODAY’S GOLFER: Print and Digital access, discounts and rewards!

About the author

Rob McGarr is a freelance writer who produces regular content for Today's Golfer.

Rob McGarr – Contributing Editor

Rob has been a writer and editor for over 15 years, covering all manner of subjects for leading magazines and websites.

He has previously been Features Editor of Today’s Golfer magazine and Digital Editor of todays-golfer.com, and held roles at FHM, Men’s Running, Golf World, and MAN Magazine.

You can follow him on YouTube where – depending on what day of the week it is – he’ll either be trying his best to get his handicap down to scratch or shoving his clubs in a cupboard, never to be seen again.

Rob is a member at Royal North Devon, England’s oldest golf course, where he plays off a three-handicap.

- Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this page, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us.