Masters champ Danny Willett takes on 2nd leg of Grand Slam
OAKMONT, Pa. — More than five decades of history is enough to remind Masters champion Danny Willett that winning the calendar Grand Slam is unlikely.
He only needs to look back one year to at least think about the possibilities.
Jordan Spieth followed up his Masters victory a year ago by winning the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, making him only the fourth player since 1960 to get halfway to the slam, which is winning all four majors in one year. His hopes ended when he missed the playoff at the British Open by one shot.
Your turn, Danny.
“I mean, what Jordan did last year was awesome,” Willett said Tuesday. “You look at the strength of the field and it would be fantastic to even be somewhere thereabouts come Sunday. We’re just going to have to play golf and see what happens. Hopefully, we can be somewhere there and get a little bit of a feeling for it.”
Spieth had a slight advantage last year being at Chambers Bay, where he tried to qualify for the U.S. Amateur and where his caddie, Michael Greller, used to work in the summers when he wasn’t teaching math.
Oakmont is entirely different, a course that is demanding from tee-to-green with the thickest rough of the year, deep bunkers and the reputation for the fastest greens in golf. Willett referred to it as “great fun,” mainly because of the different options to play various holes.
“The only thing I say around this place is you’re probably not going to see a ton of birdies,” Willett said. “It’s going to be a lot of pars and trying to limit your mistakes to when you do get out of position. So hopefully, we can keep it in the fairways and keep it on the greens and make life as stress-free as possible.”
Whatever stress there is off the golf course is starting to subside.
Willett, who played on the Walker Cup team with Rory McIlroy in 2007, had been slowly rising to become one of golf’s elite players when he closed with a 5-under 67 and overcame a faltering Spieth on the back nine at Augusta National to win his first major.
His first child was born 11 days earlier. He went home as a Masters champion and more attention than he has ever received. He took a month off to adjust to his new life on and off the golf course and didn’t take long to get back on form. He finished third in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in his most recent start.
The euphoria of having a green jacket — it’s home in England this week — hasn’t worn off.
“I don’t think it will for a while. It’s still a great achievement,” he said. “It doesn’t mean you don’t get home and you don’t work hard, you don’t practice, you don’t train. We had a few weeks celebrating and stuff. … But there is now another job at hand, and that’s trying to get as well prepared as we can for this week.”
As for that calendar Grand Slam? Willett said he was surprised no one has ever won the Masters, the U.S. Open, the British Open and the PGA Championship in the same calendar year.
The modern slam dates to 1960 when Arnold Palmer raised the idea after winning the Masters and U.S. Open. He finished one shot behind at the British Open. Jack Nicklaus got halfway home in 1972 until he finished one shot behind at the British Open. Tiger Woods dominated the Masters and U.S. Open in 2002, only to get caught in bad weather at Muirfield on his way to an 81 in the third round to lose his bid.
“You can’t look at it as a whole,” Willett said. “It is quite funny because running up to this week, you are the only guy that can do it in the same year. But, again, that’s not to say you’re not going to win the Masters again and have another chance to do it a few more times in your career. It’s just nice that we have got that chance. What comes of that? You don’t really know.”
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