By E Michael Johnson
Danny Willett is the current Masters champion and ninth-ranked player in the world. The winner of six professional events worldwide talks about mistakes amateurs make with their equipment, the first club he “had to have” and why it’s likely he’ll be going into the U.S. Open at Oakmont having never seen the course.
It’s the age-old question: Is it the indian or the arrow? Is it the player or the equipment?
The obvious answer is both. But there’s no doubt you need the right equipment and you need the right guys fitting the equipment. Guys who have played before and understand what you’re talking about and then can emulate what you’re trying to say in building golf clubs. The guys at Callaway (Willett plays Callaway through the bag and uses an Odyssey putter) do that fantastically well. They know exactly what I like to see and like to feel in a golf club and you know every time they send new equipment over that it’s pretty close right from the start.
How long does it take for that relationship to get to that point?
It takes a while. You need to develop a trust. You have to believe that they understand what’s going on and they need to develop a trust that the information that you’re giving them is truthful, and you’re not just hitting something because you want to hit it but that you’re doing it because you believe it’s the best equipment for you.
Do you have a time of year where you won’t try any new equipment, or are you pretty open to trying anything at any time?
I don’t like to tinker too much. If I have a good set of golf clubs in the bag I tend to leave them alone. But you have to appreciate that when the guys bring out new clubs they’re doing so for a reason. They believe they’re better or have certain attributes that can improve your game, so you have to give them the time to see if you can improve on what you have.
With all the equipment available on tour, how difficult is it to resist the temptation to constantly tinker?
It’s tough. You’re constantly hearing, “This will improve this and this will improve that.” So it’s tough. You need to be really strong-minded and just say that you’re really happy with the equipment you’re playing. Luckily the relationship with I have with Callaway is such that they don’t do that to me.
You said that when testing the driver that you have in the bag that you didn’t hit very many balls with it. Are you a by the numbers guy that pays a lot of attention to the launch monitor or do you go more by your eye?
It’s a bit of everything. You tend to look at the numbers for your spin rates and stuff, because you can’t quite see that with the naked eye. But then I kind of go by old-school ball flight rules. “If I swing this way, is the driver going to do what I want it to do?” And it doesn’t take many balls to realize whether it can or it can’t. If it takes you 50 balls to hit a couple of good ones with it, you know it’s not right for you.
It seems that most of your career you’ve played a somewhat forgiving players type of iron. What appeals to you about that?
I don’t really know, to be quite honest. I’ve always hit the ball rather low and with the blades I could never increase the apex on my flight. If you’re going to play golf all around the world you need the apex to be a little bit higher and these non-blade type clubs tend to do that.
While growing up, what was the first golf club that had you saying, “Man, I gotta have that club?”
One of the first ones was the old Callaway Steelhead Plus 3-wood. When those first came out they were the thing to have.
How important are the looks of a clubs? Are you very visual in that a club has to look a certain way?
My clubs have to be quite specific to my eye, which is why the guys you work with have to know exactly what I want to look at otherwise they’re sending things to you that you’re not going to like. It can never set too upright and the toe can never be too high off the floor. I prefer the club to set a little bit open and a little bit flatter. That’s an important look for me.
You’ve obviously played in some pro-ams. What’s the biggest mistake amateur golfers make with their equipment?
They often go with too little loft on their driver and the shafts often are too stiff for them. They’d benefit a lot more from a 12-degree driver with a regular shaft than trying to hit an 8- or 9-degree driver with a stiff shaft.
The U.S. Open is the next major coming up. Have you played Oakmont before?
No, I haven’t. I’ve heard a lot of good things about it. I’m not sure if I’m going to get there before June. It could be quite difficult traveling back and forth with the family now, but if not we’ll get there and prepare for it just like we would any other golf tournament.