E.A. Sports Today

Willett Augusta bound

Ex-JSU player earns Masters invite; UPDATES with list of invitees

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

When Danny Willett played golf at Jacksonville State there was always a running debate among teammates about which of the major championships was the best.

The American players on coach James Hobbs’ team, especially those with Georgia leanings, instinctively championed The Masters, not only as the first major of the year but for the difficulty in making its field. Willett invariably claimed The Open Championship.

None of them, of course, had any personal point of reference at the time, but if they ever debate the subject again Willett will be able to speak from personal experience.

By next week, the 27-year-old Englishman will be high enough in the Official World Golf Rankings to qualify for The Masters. When he tees it up at Augusta National in April he will be the first JSU player to compete in the Great American Golf Tournament and will have completed the Players Slam, playing in all four of golf’s majors.

“It was always very humorous to listen to him debate,” Hobbs said. “Now that he finally will have an invite to Augusta, I wonder what his attitude will be like.”

Willett, who played for Hobbs in 2006 and 2007, was on the cusp of Augusta qualification at No. 51 in the OWGR after winning the Nedbank Challenge in South Africa two weeks ago for his second career European Tour victory and finishing fourth in the Alfred Dunhill Championship the following week. When the rankings are readjusted he will move up to No. 50 by the end of the year, meeting a Masters threshold.

He will finish .0188 ahead of Tommy Fleetwood of England, who missed the cut at this week’s season-ending Dubai Open.

“Didn’t want to post anything until it was official,” Willett wrote on his twitter account Sunday. “Week 52. OWGR #50 boom!!”

It will be Willett’s eighth start in a major. He played in the U.S. Open for the first time this June at Pinehurst, played in three Open Championships and three PGA Championships. His best finishes have been a T-45 in the U.S. Open, T-15 in the 2013 Open Championship and T-30 in the 2014 PGA Championship.

“Danny gives us a great sense of pride in his accomplishment and what his name means to our golf program,” Hobbs said. “I know that our former players, coaches and fans follow his career closely and his success gives us great satisfaction.

“I went to the national coaches convention in Vegas and got there the Sunday of his win in South Africa. They kept coming up to me and said ‘Your boy won this week.’ It was a great deal to me and a great deal of satisfaction.”

The closest connection the school has had to The Masters before Willett came outside the ropes. The golf team’s Argentine players followed Angel Cabrera during his first Masters win in 2009 and Andy Schonbaum followed him during his second in 2013. Former Hobbs player Jose Campra has served as Cabrera’s caddy on Tour, but not at Augusta.

Hobbs hasn’t spoken directly to Willett in a while, but has communicated with him via email. When his former player was going through a spate of back spasms prior to coming to Pinehurst he offered the services of the school’s trainers if he wanted to swing by. Willett responded that his back was feeling much better and he’d catch up with his coach “somewhere down the road.”

Most recently Hobbs sent Willett a note after the Nedbank win. He is hopeful the impending Masters invitation will get the player some starts on the PGA Tour beforehand and perhaps a visit to campus.

2015 Masters Invitees

Sang-Moon Bae, Korea
Thomas Bjørn, Denmark
Jonas Blixt, Sweden
Keegan Bradley, USA
Angel Cabrera, Argentina
Tim Clark, South Africa
Darren Clarke, Northern Ireland
# Erik Compton, USA
#a-Corey Conners, Canada
Fred Couples, USA
Ben Crane, USA
Ben Crenshaw, USA
Jason Day, Australia
Luke Donald, England
Jamie Donaldson, Wales
Victor Dubuisson, France
Jason Dufner, USA
Ernie Els, South Africa
Rickie Fowler, USA
Jim Furyk, USA
Stephen Gallacher, Scotland
Sergio Garcia, Spain
Bill Haas, USA
# Brian Harman, USA
#a-Scott Harvey, USA
Russell Henley, USA
Charley Hoffman, USA
# Morgan Hoffmann, USA
J.B. Holmes, USA
Billy Horschel, USA
Mikko Ilonen, Finland
Trevor Immelman, South Africa
Thongchai Jaidee, Thailand
Miguel Angel Jimenez, Spain
Dustin Johnson, USA
Zach Johnson, USA
Martin Kaymer, Germany
Chris Kirk, USA
# Brooks Koepa, USA
Matt Kuchar, USA
Bernhard Langer, Germany
Marc Leishman, Australia
# Shane Lowry, Ireland
Joost Luiten, Netherlands
Sandy Lyle, Scotland
Hunter Mahan, USA
Ben Martin, USA
Hideki Matsuyama, Japan
Graeme McDowell, Northern Ireland
Rory McIlroy, Northern Ireland
#a-Byron Meth, USA
Phil Mickelson, USA
Larry Mize, USA
Ryan Moore, USA
#a-Antonio Murdaca, Australia
Kevin Na, USA
#a-Bradley Neil, Scotland
# Seung-Yul Noh, Korea
Mark O’Meara, USA
Geoff Ogilvy, Australia
Jose Maria Olazabal, Spain
Louis Oosthuizen, South Africa
Ryan Palmer, USA
Ian Poulter, England
Patrick Reed, USA
Justin Rose, England
Charl Schwartzel, South Africa
Adam Scott, Australia
John Senden, Australia
Webb Simpson, USA
Vijay Singh, Fiji
Jordan Spieth, USA
Kevin Stadler, USA
Henrik Stenson, Sweden
# Robert Streb, USA
Kevin Streelman, USA
Steve Stricker, USA
# Brendan Todd, USA
# Cameron Tringale, USA
Camilo Villegas, Colombia
Jimmy Walker, USA
Bubba Watson, USA
Tom Watson, USA
Mike Weir, Canada
Lee Westwood, England
# Danny Willett, England
Gary Woodland, USA
Tiger Woods, USA
Ian Woosnam, Wales
#a-Gunn Yang, Korea

#-Masters rookie

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