Saturday 10 December 2016

'It put a downer on my first Ryder Cup' - Danny Willett admits European debut has been tarnished by brother's comments

Carl Markham

Published 29/09/2016 | 20:44

Danny Willett of England speaks in a press conference during a practice round for the 41st Ryder Cup at Hazeltine
Danny Willett of England speaks in a press conference during a practice round for the 41st Ryder Cup at Hazeltine

Rookie Danny Willett admits his first Ryder Cup has been tarnished by the furore over his brother's anti-American comments.

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Willett's schoolteacher brother Peter wrote a column for National Club Golfer magazine describing United States Ryder Cup fans as a "braying mob of imbeciles" - among other derogatory things - and caused considerable consternation on this side of the Atlantic.

On the eve of the competition the Masters champion, who has already apologised, hoped a line could be drawn under the matter and although he accepted there would be some heckling, he hoped it would not degenerate into a tirade of abuse against him.

There was some relatively harmless comments directed towards him during Europe's final practice round on Thursday, when Pete Cowen, coach to several of the European team, jokingly attempted to draw a target on the back of Willett's white shirt, and the Yorkshireman said he could handle that.

However, the fuss appeared to have got to him as his play was erratic - hitting one spectator on the head at the second hole with a few more wayward shots thrown in - and that has given captain Darren Clarke a headache he did not need.

"It's been pretty tricky for me to get back on and fully focus these last few hours, especially this morning," said the 28-year-old.

"I was disappointed in what he wrote and it put a bit of a downer on my first Ryder Cup for the last couple of days. Obviously it's been tarnished slightly.

"Coming to America (as a European) you're already a bit of a target and it kind of centred the attention a bit more upon myself.

"There's some pretty rowdy American fans every Ryder Cup, that's the nature of the beast, that's what happens. Same when the guys come to Europe.

"You don't mind the odd bit of heckling but hope it doesn't go to far.

"I'm not saying it's going to be completely forgotten but hopefully it's died down a little bit more and hopefully we can all get on with what we're here to do.

"Hopefully everyone can draw a line under it and we can just come out here and play some golf."

Having publicly apologised yesterday Willett sought out US captain Davis Love and some of the players at Wednesday's gala dinner to clarify that his brother's opinions in no way reflected his own.

He was well-received by members of opposition team and there will be no lasting issue when battle commences with the opening foursomes on Friday.

"I spoke to Davis yesterday and he was happy to draw a line under it," added Willett, who played two seasons for Alabama's Jacksonville State University on a golf scholarship before he turned professional.

"It's nothing that I mean or that I've said and I spoke to some of the American guys last night and they felt the same way.

"All the experiences I've had in America have been pretty good so far within my golfing life and within life.

"I was at college here for two years, and I've enjoyed coming to America now for the last eight, nine years of my career."

Willett has spoken to his brother, who has apologised to him, but he admits there will be more conversations about his part-time writing sideline when he returns home next week.

"What was said was said and there's no going back on anything like that," he added.

"But I've got to be relatively selfish in all of this. I appreciate maybe it's his career but it's also mine at the same time."

Willett - and his parents Steve and Elisabet who are over here supporting him - received the backing of US opponent Patrick Reed who, although was not put under the same sort of scrutiny, was America's pantomime villain at Gleneagles two years ago with his animated antics on the course.

"It's forgive and forget. It's unfortunate that something was said, and not from actual Danny," said the 26-year-old.

"I know the last Ryder Cup was my first and it's such a special and awesome moment that to have something distract you from enjoying your first moment is unfortunate.

"I heard the other day that his family was embarrassed; that they were thinking about flying home and that's something that just can't happen.

"I'm hoping the fans can put it aside and allow the rookies, not only on our side but their side, to enjoy it and allow Danny to enjoy the week.

"It's one of these things that it hasn't affected us in any way.

"I hope for the best for Danny and his family and hope they actually enjoy the week and that our fans don't just completely annihilate them."

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