DANNY Willett’s dramatic win in The Masters led a remarkable display by English golfers at Augusta which is set to inspire a new generation of players.
New champion Willett was accompanied in the top 10 by Lee Westwood (T2), Paul Casey (T4), Matt Fitzpatrick (T7) and Justin Rose (T10). Meanwhile Chris Wood shared 42nd place.
In addition Charley Hull is flying the flag for the women’s game, having been runner up in the first Major of the season, the Ana Inspiration, earlier this month.
All seven players have been involved with England Golf, either as champions or team players – or both. “This is inspirational,” said Nigel Edwards, England Golf Performance Director, as he reviewed Willett’s wonderful performance, carding a blemish free 67 in the final round to hold off Westwood and leave no way back from a 12th hole disaster for defending champion Jordan Speith.
“Who ever said golf was boring?” said Edwards, who has captained two GB&I Walker Cup teams to victory. “All the media are going crazy about this and hopefully we can have another surge, as there was for European golf in the 80s and 90s.”
The successes have thrown the spotlight on English golf and the work of England Golf, supported by clubs and counties, to create champions.
England Golf’s training programme offers coaching and playing opportunities to the country’s most talented players to help them develop their skills.
For Willett that included trips to Australia – where he won the Australian stroke play championship – and to Spain, where he won the Spanish amateur before turning professional as the world number one amateur. He is pictured top, playing for England in 2008 (copyright Tom Ward).
“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 Edwards.
“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.”
Most recently, the programme has produced players such as Ashley Chesters, two-time European amateur champion, and Jimmy Mullen who were unbeaten in last year’s record Walker Cup win; and world number four Bronte Law, who is odds-on to play in her third Curtis Cup this summer.
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 over a decade, taking him from a two-handicapper to the world 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.
“Danny had an insatiable appetite for work and for good information. I had good information and he was willing to work very hard. That’s a recipe for success.”
Amateur record factfile
Danny Willett was English amateur champion in 2007 and, in the same year, represented England, played for GB&I in the Walker Cup, and for Europe in the Sir Michael Bonallack Trophy. He went on to win the 2008 Australian stroke play and Spanish amateur championships and became the world’s top amateur.
Lee Westwood played for England in 1993, when he won the British Youths’ championship. He won the Peter McEvoy Trophy in 1990.
Paul Casey won the English amateur championship in 1999 and 2000. He played in the ’99 Walker Cup, winning all four of his matches and playing his foursomes with Luke Donald.
Matt Fitzpatrick became the first English winner of the US Amateur in 102 years when he triumphed in 2013, when he also represented GB&I in the Walker Cup, won the silver medal as the leading amateur at The Open, and became the world’s number one amateur. He was the 2012 Boys’ Amateur champion.
Justin Rose, is an England Golf ambassador and the 2013 US Open champion. In his amateur days he represented England in 1997-8, played in the ’97 Walker Cup and finished fourth in the ’98 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale.
Chris Wood topped the England men’s order of merit in 2007 and ’08. He represented England in both years, reached the quarter finals of the Amateur Championship in 2007 and won the Welsh stroke play the following year.
Charley Hull is an England Golf Ambassador who won a national ladies’ competition at the age of nine. By 15 she was England’s top woman amateur, having won the English and Welsh stroke play titles among other events. At 16 she played in her first major, the Kraft Nabisco, and finished in the top 40, before going on to represent GB&I in the winning Curtis Cup team of 2012.
Image of Danny Willett courtesy of Tom Ward.