Close like a champ: How Danny Willett won the 2016 Masters

March 7, 2017

Something terrible was happening to Jordan Spieth as he played through Amen Corner. That much I did know. That I had taken the lead in the final round of the Masters? I didn’t learn that until I stepped onto the 16th tee. I had won four times on the European Tour but never on American soil, let alone in a major. And the adrenaline was pumping. It was too late to make a strategy shift. “Keep making good swings,” I told myself. I played the final three holes in 1-under, which proved to be more than enough. It boiled down to basics: solid iron contact, smart short-game decisions and hitting fairways. Here’s how I did it, and how you can beat nerves—and avoid mistakes—when gunning for your own major.

Par-3 16th: An Epic Approach

THE SITUATION: My caddie, Jon Smart, gave me 181 yards. For me, that’s smack dab between a 7- and an 8-iron.

MASTERFUL MOVE: I went with the 8-iron. As I said, my adrenaline was pumping—I knew I could easily squeeze 10 more yards out of that club. And to me, adding distance to an iron is much easier than taking it off. I played a draw off the right tower. It was perfect. The plan was to leave a 15-footer. I ended up with a six-footer and one of the best birdies of my life.

MISTAKE TO AVOID: When stepping on the gas with an iron, make the “step” at the bottom of your swing, not the top. The pace of your backswing and transition shouldn’t change, but as you near impact—that’s when you add the juice. Try this: Hit balls with a left-hand-low grip. If you add speed too soon using this hold, you’ll shank it! When you’re able to hit solid shots, it means you’re correctly saving clubhead speed until the strike. Better yet, you’re avoiding the “casting” move that causes slices.

Par-4 17th: A Smart Pitch

THE SITUATION: My approach sailed long and left—not the worst place to miss on 17, but it did leave me with a 20-yard pitch up a slope and over the crown running through the center of the green.

MASTERFUL MOVE: Like I always do, I look for a spot on the green where I need to land the ball in order for it to roll close. It’s a visual cue: Seeing the spot in relation to the lie and the cup automatically tells me what wedge to pull. Here, it was lob wedge—and a soft pitch that rolled to three feet of the pin.

MISTAKE TO AVOID: I see amateurs in this same position, and they all do the same thing—they putt the ball. Problem is, you need speed to cover the slope, and you can’t “check” a putt, so it often rolls too far. Pitching creates backspin, and enough hold to settle the ball near the cup. It’s simple: Keep your flatstick in the bag.

Par-4 18th: Piped 3-Wood

THE SITUATION: To be on the tee on the final hole of the Masters with a two-stroke lead: It doesn’t get any better than that! Nerves? You bet. But I knew that if I found the fairway, the green jacket was mine.

MASTERFUL MOVE: A solid 3-wood. Why not driver? My 3-wood can’t reach the bunkers on the left side of the fairway. Once I pulled the club, I kept to my normal routine. The last thing you want is to psych yourself out.

MISTAKE TO AVOID: Weekend players overemphasize “must-make” swings while treating others too casually. Your preshot routine should be identical, and last as long, on all swings. By focusing on routine, you can ignore the pressure and negative thoughts. You’ll soon feel very comfortable on “pressure” swings—and that’s when you can close like a champ.