Willett finds price tag comes with green jacket

  • Danny Willett, of England, hits on the driving range during practice for the Masters golf tournament Tuesday, April 4, 2017, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel) Charlie Riedel

  • Danny Willett, of England, watches on the driving range during practice for the Masters golf tournament Monday, April 3, 2017, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum) Matt Slocum

  • Danny Willett, of England, smiles on the driving range during practice round for the Masters golf tournament Monday, April 3, 2017, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum) Matt Slocum

Associated Press
Published: 4/5/2017 11:21:58 PM

Winning a Masters green jacket doesn’t always lead to champagne dreams and caviar wishes. Sometimes, as defending champion Danny Willett found out, it means outsized demands on your time and plenty of unwanted pressure.

The Englishman’s brilliant final round at Augusta National – a bogey-free 67, including a 3-under on the closing stretch of six holes – already seems so last year. He missed the cut at The Players Championship, his first event after the Masters, and hasn’t won since. His best finish since the calendar turned over was a tie for fifth at the Maybank Classic, an Asian-European Tour event with a weaker field than any tournament played on this side of the Atlantic this year.

Willett was a newly minted dad and moved up to No. 9 in the world soon after 2015 champion Jordan Spieth draped the green jacket over his shoulders. He’s slid to 17th since.

Small wonder he arrived at Augusta National sounding less than thrilled about defending the title.

“You’ve achieved the greatest height in your game. You have got to the pinnacle. You’ve climbed Everest and you’ve put your flag in,” Willett said.

In some ways, his success feels more like a curse. Having raised his game on golf’s biggest stage at the biggest moment, he’s increasingly frustrated when he can’t do the same when there’s a lot less on the line.

“The thing that obviously you kind of begin to realize is compared to that week, every week is going to be a failure, you know? ... You feel like you should be able to, and you’ve done it once, why can’t you do it every time you play?” Willett said.

Distractions were never Willett’s cup of tea, but with the demands of a growing family taking up more of his time, some of the trappings of being the Masters champion felt more like disturbances. The worse he played, the more he regretted being away from home.

If he has regrets about the past year, a reluctance to seek advice from former champions or friends on how to handle success would top the list.

“In hindsight, might have been worth it. I was busy with family life,” Willett said, “and I didn’t quite realize, in fairness, how hectic and how chaotic it was going to be.”

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