By Doug Ferguson
AP Golf Writer
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Masters champion Danny Willett has been away from golf for a month and has been working harder than ever.
Not with his golf clubs but with a pen.
The last box of some 200 yellow Masters flags arrived Tuesday for Willett to sign for players and charities, bringing the total to what manager Chubby Chandler estimated at just short of 1,000 since the 28-year-old from England slipped on a green jacket.
As for the golf? Not so much.
He played 18 holes with his friends at home on Saturday. He played nine holes Monday when he showed up at the TPC Sawgrass for The Players Championship.
“Only time I’ve been on the golf course in the last month,” said Willett, who lives in a house he converted from an old mill behind Lindrick Golf Club, best known as hosting the 1957 Ryder Cup that produced a rare — at the time, anyway — victory for Great Britain & Ireland.
“A little rusty,” Willett said. “Try and get some work done this week … and hopefully come Thursday, we’ll have shook off a little bit of that rust.”
This was a nice problem to have.
Even before he rallied from a five-shot deficit to beat Jordan Spieth on the back nine at Augusta National, Willett had planned a quiet month away from golf with his wife and newborn son to relax and do what he described as “normal things.”
He wasn’t planning on chaos back home in a country celebrating its first Masters champion in 20 years. There were media appearances with his green jacket, a trip to the European Cup semifinal between Liverpool and Villareal, and an appearance at the World Snooker Championship in his hometown of Sheffield, where Willett took a lap of honor around two snooker tables.
Asked what he had done differently because of winning his first major, Willett smiled and said, “Drunk more.”
That’s not entirely true.
Willett probably wouldn’t have spent the Tuesday night after the Masters watching a replay of his 5-under 67 that in time will get as much attention as the 41 that Spieth shot on the back nine. That began the process of realizing what he had done.
“It’s still not sunk in, to be honest,” Willett said. “I just kind of watched it … I don’t know if I felt like I had to. I just wanted to see it back over, I guess, and just see some of the things that we did. Four-and-a-half hours go pretty quick when you’re playing, and Sunday went exceptionally fast. So I think it was just to actually watch it back and slow it down, just take in what we achieved.”
Willett plans to bring his green jacket with him wherever he plays, and with it comes expectations he hasn’t felt since he was the world’s No. 1 amateur in 2008. The next few years will decide whether he’s more of a curiosity than a celebrity.
Slowed by nagging back problems, the Masters was only his fifth victory worldwide. Then again, he was hardly a surprise. Willett was No. 12 in the world when he won the Masters, after winning in Dubai earlier in the year and in Switzerland last year.
“I thought at the beginning of the year he would win one of the next six majors,” Chandler said. “And I think he’ll win another in the next four. He has a proper short game. He has the head, the heart and the (guts). That’s a good combination.”
It’s time to get back to work. A lot of work.
Willett only has a two-week break scheduled twice through October, and he could play as many as 15 times over the next 23 weeks.
That doesn’t include the FedEx Cup playoffs, even though he is eligible by taking PGA Tour membership. There were other commitments he made in Europe, and Willett won’t cancel those. Not this year. He would play the FedEx Cup finale at the Tour Championship only if he can stay in the top 30 without competing in the opening three playoff events. That’s a tall order because Willett has only four events left — The Players and three majors — to earn points and he currently is at No. 34.
He leaves Florida for Ireland and then England. He has a three-week stretch of the U.S. Open, Germany and the French Open. Then he has three big events in five weeks — the British Open, PGA Championship and the Olympics.
It starts at Sawgrass with a lot of rust and plenty of expectations — at least more than he had before he owned a green jacket.
“I’m not really too fussed about what everybody else thinks,” Willett said. “I’m trying to do my bit. And what I’ve done over the last 18 months, two years, it’s proved to myself that I can do some pretty special things.”