There was a time when all anybody knew about Danny Willett was that he was the son of a Church of England preacher.
He had won the BMW International Open in 2012, but the Sheffield native was taking his time adjusting to the professional game and he finished in the top three just twice in 49 European Tour starts across the next two seasons.
Then 2015 happened.
He won the season-opening Nedbank Golf Challenge in South Africa and has kept his place in the top two of the Race to Dubai rankings ever since, only conceding the lead to Rory McIlroy.
In July he reached the summit of the Open leaderboard, although he would be unable to sustain his challenge.
Then a second win, the following week at the Omega European Masters, consolidated the 27-year-old’s status as the most consistent performer on the European Tour during 2015.
He chats to National Club Golfer about his hopes for the future
This year you’ve climbed to number 26 in the world rankings, so is this the level you think you should be at?
I’ve had a great 2015, topped off with the win in Switzerland at the Omega European Masters.
This is where I feel I can be, and it’s nice that my game is there. I’ve managed to achieve some consistency and I’ve been good for a few years. Thankfully I’ve been able to get the results at the right time.
I had some issues with my back, but the injury stuff is getting there. I’m back in the gym and I’m finding I can train harder and play longer.
How exciting is the thought that your Ryder Cup debut could be just 11 months away?
There’s no point getting excited. Apart from practising and training, there’s nothing you can do about it. If I keep playing some good golf and we have the same run we have been having, there’s no reason why I won’t be on the team. But I can’t affect that, I just have to let it happen.
You get the feeling that Darren Clarke’s going to be a menacing captain. Is that important this time?
Last time out, Paul McGinley got a reputation as a ‘Mr Nice Guy’ kind of captain, but you do need a bit of a different mentality. For the American fans, it’s their back garden and they let you know it. Clarke’s a good choice because he’s played in America and won a lot of good stuff. He’s been pretty successful on and off the golf course. When we play tournaments on Tour it’s nicey-nicey, but when it’s one-on-one you are trying to stop your opponents from feeling comfortable by any means necessary.
You look at match play and Dubuisson is someone who I pick out as being good at that. He came up trumps because it’s a different mentality and it’s very much dog eat dog, a bit of fight, a bit of grit.
How would you go about affecting your opponent at match play?
You do that by hitting a lot of fairways, hitting a lot of greens, and you end up putting a lot of pressure on your opponent, because they feel like they have to do stuff to beat you. That makes them try to force it and they make a mistake.
Look at Westy, that’s why he is so good, because people know they have got to do something special to beat him.
When it comes to the matches, I’m not really bothered who I play against and I’ll be happy with whichever position they thought I was best to go out in and play. It’s the first time in the golfing world where my ego doesn’t really come into it.
In golf you want to be the best in the world, on your own, but with the Ryder Cup all we want to do is beat them as a team. It doesn’t matter how we do it, all we want to do is bring the Ryder Cup home.
For you personally, how would playing in the Ryder Cup impact upon your career?
It’s just one tournament and although it would be great to be a part of it and it would be an unbelievable achievement, it doesn’t define a career.
Take a look at Jamie Donaldson, who basically won the Ryder Cup. Look at the year he’s had following – he’s really struggled again.
It doesn’t mean you are a great player because you have played in the Ryder Cup. You look at Clarke, Bjorn, Westy and Monty. Their records are phenomenal, but you don’t remember them just for their Ryder Cup records.
How will your Walker Cup experience help you at Hazeltine?
Obviously the Ryder Cup is a very different standard to the Walker Cup, even down to the different players and the golf courses.
When I played in the Walker Cup in 2007 you were very much among the established members of the team, but this time I will be the rookie.
But the team environment is the same and it’s good to be part of a team and play team golf. Golf is a very selfish game usually, so to help others and cheer them on, it’s a very different thing. That’s why the Ryder Cup appeals to so many different people.
I’ve spoken to Clarke a few times and we’ve had a good few chats about stuff, not necessarily the Ryder Cup. I’ve talked to him and Lee Westwood and played a few practice rounds with them, and I think Clarke will be a very good captain.
At St Andrews you sat atop the leaderboard after 36 holes. How did you feel it went?
It was a good week, all in all. My mother, Elisabet, text me after 36 holes saying ‘Well done, you’ve made the cut’. I got myself into contention but I didn’t quite finish it off as I had a bad spell in the third round and couldn’t quite keep up the pace.
There’s so much stuff that goes on and a lot of people want your time. So you have to be wary of your time management and making sure you still have quality time to practice while everyone around you is wanting a piece of your time. It’s tough to get the balance right.
You finished tied-sixth, with a pretty average showing in the other Majors. Will you be ready to challenge next year?
I don’t think you can ever put performance goals in there. Everyone’s goals would be the same – to win two or three times a year – but looking back over the history of the game, there’s not a lot of guys who have even won three times in their career.
So my aim is to just keep improving. One thing I can say is I won’t be tinkering with my swing as it’s taken a lot of work over the last few years to get my swing where I feel it’s in a better place. It’s more about getting more out of what I have got, getting more control and making that better.
Your upward turn in fortunes seems to have coincided with your marriage in 2013?
Nic, she’s a brilliant woman, and my family understand the same. It’s about me being able to concentrate on what I do. I’ve got a fantastic support system around me.
They talk about stability and when you have got something away from golf, which golf doesn’t influence, then it’s really good for you as a person.
I used to practice non-stop, but you almost corkscrew yourself down. Now I do the correct amount of work at the correct intensity and try to give myself a bit of a break when I have a week off.
I enjoy being at home. When I am away, I am out there doing business and when I get to the golf course I am trying to win. But it’s back at home where I try and take my time off.
We go out for meals, go to the pub, take the dog for a walk. It’s good to see your family and sleep in your own bed.
Fellow Sheffield native Matt Fitzpatrick is experiencing his first year on Tour. What’s the best advice you could give?
It’s nice to see Fitz, he’s stayed with the same coach and the same team and now he’s coming good – finishing a close second to me at the Omega European Masters in Switzerland. People think they need to change what got them on Tour. A lot of people get out there and change everything, and that’s not at all what you want to do.
And that’s me speaking from experience.