Willett expects decorum when he defends Masters title

Danny Willett (Getty Images)
Danny Willett (Getty Images)

Washington - Reigning Masters champion Danny Willett does not expect heckling crowds next month at Augusta National like those he had at the Ryder Cup after his brother Pete criticized US golf fans.

The 29-year-old Englishman, who captured his first major title last April, was taunted six months ago while going 0-3 for Europe in the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine.

Willett apologized for his brother's internet insults, calling US fans "mob of imbeciles" and "stupid, greedy, classless bastards" among other things, he later tweeted, "Unfortunately some american fans showed that (Pete) was in fact correct," and "sometimes fans don't know when to call it a day."

Willett said he has been treated well in US starts this year and expects the same upon his return to Augusta National.

"The American fans have been great as you would expect," Willett said Tuesday. "To the Augusta patrons, they are the best kind of fans around. They want to see everybody play good golf. I'm really looking forward to getting back to Augusta and being around that."

The first European winner of the green jacket since Spain's Jose Maria Olazabal in 1999 plans on a private first drive back along Magnolia Lane to the clubhouse, his first changing of clothes in the champions locker room and a nine-hole practice round on the Saturday before the Masters begins.

"It's going to be a magical place to go back to... I'm sure when I even get in the area of Augusta there will be a big Cheshire (Cat) smile on my face. I can't think of a more amazing week to defend. I'm really looking forward to going back there."

Willett also looks forward to playing another British Open at Muirfield, which on Tuesday was returned to the event rota by the Royal and Ancient after announcing it had voted to allow women members. A vote last May failed to receive the two-thirds support needed to pass but a re-vote saw more than 80 percent support.

Not having the Open at the Scottish layout "was a blow for us golfers who think that's one of the best Open courses we play," Willett said.

Of the "great" vote to allow women, Willett said: "It shows change in what is ordinarily an incredibly old golf club. It shows how times have changed. It shows how golf has changed."

Another sign of change was the death last September of golf icon Arnold Palmer, who had been a ceremonial Masters starter along with legends Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player.

"My first memories of watching Augusta, I always remember Mr. Player, Mr. Nicklaus and Mr. Palmer hitting the ceremonial first tee shots," Willett said. "That's going to be something pretty emotional when we get back there in April to not have him there on the first tee with the other guys."

Palmer, a four-time Masters champion, had sent Willett a letter of congratulations for his Masters triumph.

"Mr. Palmer sent us a letter, basically just saying that he watched and how spectacular an event it was," Willett said.

"For such a legend of the game... to take the time to write you a note, it tells you something about the person that he was."

One of Willett's favorite moments wearing the green jacket was at Wimbledon last year.

"To be able to wear it in the royal box at Wimbledon was pretty cool," Willett said. "It was just something really special to be able to sit there in such a prestigious place as Wimbledon and have the jacket on my shoulders."

While he wouldn't reveal his Masters Champions dinner menu plans, the night could include some British culinary favorites and a fuller understanding of the impact of his breakthrough victory.

"You're going to be in a room there with guys that have slipped on the green jacket," Willett said. "And I think you realize then how great of an achievement it actually was."

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