The Ryder Cup is several months away, but captain Darren Clarke would do well to ask the team tailor to measure out Danny Willett and Andy Sullivan. With their performance in the Dubai Desert Classic, these two have proven once again that they would be great fits for the European team uniform.
Not only do they seem a shoo-in for selection – Willett is ranked 20th in the world and expected to move to inside the top-15 after his win at Emirates Golf Club on Sunday, while Sullivan is up to 37 and improving each week – they also appear to have the perfect attitude for a competition that is as unique and as passion-filled as the Ryder Cup.
In this win, and his dogged pursuit of Rory McIlroy throughout the 2015 season, Willett has shown time and again he is like a pitbull terrier – he never lets go. That’s an amazing trait for any Ryder Cup star to have.
At the 2015 DP World Tour Championship, Willett had every reason to be peeved with the situation he was in.
The European Tour No. 1 crown, going by the letter of the law, should have been his by that time. Rory McIlroy, who was leading the Race to Dubai, was not in line to play the DP World Tour Championship because he had not played the mandatory number of events before that.
But the Tour, as a special case, permitted McIlroy to tee up in Dubai despite playing one event less. The decision may seem fair – especially as McIlroy had missed out on three tournaments that would have counted towards the Race to Dubai because of his injury – but it was unprecedented, and Willett was the one to lose the most.
It wasn’t just the financial loss – which was immense (just the difference in the bonus pool distribution for finishing first and second was $875,000) – but also the fact that he will have to wait to be called the European No. 1. But Willett has smiled through it all, and battled hard with McIlroy at Jumeirah Golf Estates before the Northern Irishman pulled away on the final day.
Sullivan is a similar character when it comes to perseverance, but is even more useful in the team room because there is never a dull moment when he is around. A compulsive talker, the man from Nuneaton honestly believes he is living the dream.
He was taking care of the inventory in an Asda shop less than five years ago, and today, he is mixing with the finest names in golf and making millions. What’s there about life that is not worth celebrating?
And he may be the best putter amongst the current crop of Europeans. There is nobody, not even Ian Poulter, who can make better clutch putts than Sullivan right now.
While the performance of these two players, who will be making their Ryder Cup debut if they qualify for Hazeltine, will surely delight Clarke, he will be concerned over the forms of veterans Poulter and Lee Westwood, and to a certain extent Graeme McDowell.
All three missed the cut in the events they played last week. While they do have a lot of time to find their touch, it is extremely important that experienced players like them also make it to the team on their own.
Clarke has just three captain’s picks and he should not find himself in a position where he has to make obvious choices.
Danny Willett admitted winning his first Dubai Desert Classic felt “extra special” as he had to make one last pressure-packed putt on the 72nd hole of the tournament to edge ahead of his rivals.
Willett made no mistake in sending the 15-feet effort into the centre of the cup and while heaving a sigh of relief on securing his fourth European Tour title, the 28-year-old Briton said there was no better way to win a golf tournament.
“It is the best way to win. You’d love to win by five or six every time you win, but when you win in that fashion, it does feel that little bit extra special. When the pressure is on, being able to produce the goods is special, I guess,” said Willett.
“It’s obviously a relatively daunting last hole. We needed to make a four or a five to win. So just delighted with how I dug in and obviously found it.
“I am just ecstatic. What it’s like coming down the back nine, or the back three, in contention of a golf tournament, you really can’t buy that feeling. You’ve got to earn it.”
Willett had finished second to Rory McIlroy in the Race to Dubai last year after a battle that stretched into the last round of the season. This win, in a field that featured McIlroy, will help him go for another tilt at the title held by the world No. 2, that of being the European No. 1 player for winning the Race to Dubai.
“I think any year where you can be in and around the top-10 all year and give yourself a chance come the Final Series to win the Order of Merit, is brilliant,” added Willett. “It’s still early days to talk about the Race to Dubai. But yeah, we’ve certainly put ourselves nicely up there to fight for the top again.
“I think once you get that feel of how it was last year and how it felt to be in and around it that whole week in Dubai and how it felt to not pull it off…yeah, it would be good.”
Last year in November, Gary Player turned 80. But if you are expecting him to be slow down any soon, perish the thought.
The nine-time major champion from South Africa revealed during an interaction with the media that he is already making his plans for the next 20 years.
In his own inimitable style, Player said: “I’m thinking to myself right now, I’m 80, what do I do for the next 20 years. I’m not saying, am I going to die at 85, am I going to die at 86? Hell… I beat most guys at 40 in the gym at 80, so why should I think about dying?
“I could have an accident or get a disease, but I’m thinking, I’m planning; I’m making my plans for the next 20 years, designing golf courses, raising $100 million for underprivileged people in the world, representing a lot of companies now…I make more money today as an 80-year-old than I made when I was in my prime!
“I have many desires still at 80 years of age, when most people are sitting on their fat bums and dying.”
Rory and Super Bowl
While Sunday did not go as per plans for Rory McIlroy, he was hoping to be able to catch up on Super Bowl 50 while 38,000 feet in the air and see his good friend Peyton Manning lead Denver Broncos to a win.
Asked if he was planning to watch the Super Bowl and which team he’d be backing, McIlroy said: “I will be flying back to the States when the Super Bowl gets underway, but we’ll have live TV so I will get to see coverage.
“I am a big fan of both the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers but then I would love to see the Broncos win, if only for Peyton Manning to go out of the game on top.
“That would be awesome if that happened.”