AUGUSTA, Ga. – Former Jacksonville State standout and Ohio Valley Conference Champion Danny Willett won his first professional event on U.S. soil on Sunday and it was on the game's biggest stage.
An All-OVC player for JSU in 2006 and 2007, Willett fired a 67 in Sunday's final round and came back from as many as five shots behind defending champion Jordan Spieth to win The Masters.
It was Willett's first major title and his first win in the United States since he rallied in similar fashion to win the 2007 OVC Championship and will forever link him with the greatest ever play the game.
"It's awesome," Willett told CBS after the completion of his round on Sunday.
"We played great golf today and it's been a fantastic week. You can't really describe the emotions and the feelings. We all go out there trying to play good golf and at the end of the day somebody has to win the golf tournament. Fortunately today was my day."
The win is Willett's fifth at the professional level, with the previous four coming in European Tour play. The 28-year-old that welcomed his first son last week entered The Masters holding the No. 12 spot in the World Golf Rankings. He will surely move up after a Sunday that JSU Golf Coach James Hobbs called a great moment for Jacksonville State.
"This is a proud moment for JSU, for our men's golf team and for our program," Hobbs said by phone preparing for an event in Nashville on Sunday evening. "This puts a stamp on our program. We have a Masters champion that played at JSU."
What looked like it would be Spieth's day for the second year in a row turned quickly in Willett's favor in the tournament's final few holes. After four-straight birdies to close the front nine, the defending champion made the turn with a five-shot lead.
Two Spieth bogeys at 10 and 11 allowed back-to-back Willett birdies to make it a one-shot tournament, and a quadruple-bogey seven on No. 12 dropped Spieth three shots back of Willett. Another birdie on 16 for the Sheffield, England, native gave him enough of a cushion to make him just the second Englishman to ever win the green jacket.
"Every time we seemed to make ground, Jordan kept pulling ahead and we were trying to just dig in and make birdies after birdies. It was just a very surreal day when you look back at the ebbs and flows. We were just fortunate that the shots we hit were correct at that time and we holed a few putts when we needed to."
For the Gamecocks, Willett was the 2006 Ohio Valley Conference Freshman of the Year and won medalist honors at the 2007 OVC Championship. He was a First Team All-OVC performer and a member of the OVC's All-Tournament Team in both seasons.
As a freshman in 2005-06, he boasted a national rating of 21, the lowest by a JSU player in school history. He put together a 71.83 scoring average, second-best in school history, that was bolstered by 23 rounds of par or better. During his career with the Gamecocks, he won three times and his scoring average was a school-record 71.96. JSU counted all 72 rounds he played, making him the only Gamecock to have every round counted in multiple seasons.
Hobbs made the trip to Augusta to watch Willett earlier in the week. Danny's latest achievement is one that left Hobbs searching for words when asked what it meant.
"It's hard to put into words," he said. "You think about all these years and all of the great players I've been able to recruit and coach. To win a major championship is just a dream for those kids.
"I knew Danny was a special player when he came here as a 17-year-old-kid. There was just something special about him. Now he has a green jacket and, to me, it has a little red lining inside of it."
When asked what he would say to Willett when he got a chance to speak with him, Hobbs planned to ask him a question he'd heard Willett answer several times during his playing days at JSU.
"There was always an argument in the van between Danny and my American players about what the biggest major was." Hobbs added. "Danny always said The Open was the biggest and my American players argued that it was The Masters. I can't wait to ask him that question again, because I think he may have a different answer after today."