‘DANNY DIDN’T REALLY MATCH AUGUSTA CLICHE’
Pete Cowen may have his name attached to the Academy, but Mike Walker is a big reason why Willett and Fitzpatrick call it their second home. Cowen’s number two is the go-to coach for a large English contingent on Tour, including Chris Wood, Dave Horsey and Eddie Pepperell.
Walker’s workload means he clocks up plenty of air miles, and was even forced to cancel his honeymoon to travel to Augusta and oversee the preparations of Willett & Co. But had he turned his phone off when they were coming down the stretch on Sunday, Walker concedes he would have missed arguably the highpoint of his coaching career.
“I had to be up at ridiculous o-clock on the Monday morning so I went to bed when they reached the turn,” he told us. “Spieth was out in front at that point and about half an hour later my phone was going bananas. When Danny won, we had a couple of beers to celebrate... it’s still the only flight I’ve ever missed.”
Walker admits it took him a few days to get over the shock, but more so because of how events transpired on the back nine. “I’m not saying I knew he was going to win,” says Walker, “but it didn’t surprise me to see Danny in contention on Sunday. A lot of people think he came in off the radar, but he was performing very consistently and only just missed out in the Race to Dubai.
“His game was in good shape, but in a lot of ways he didn’t really match the clichés of Augusta by drawing the ball. He didn’t take full advantage of the par 5s either, but what separates Danny statistically is the shots between 150 and 225 yards. He is the elite of the elite and to score well at Augusta you need to leave yourself easy putts, which he managed to do.” Our juniors here get inspired by Danny, but they see him all the time. They might watch some of the tour pros through the windows in the teaching bay, but they won’t bother them. They’ve seen them so many times now that the novelty has worn off. Danny actually sponsors our kids’ tournaments. We hold 12 events, including four Majors, as part of the Pete Cowen Tour. They only play nine holes, and then we have the four Majors which are held at the four best courses around here. We’ve had 23 cases of vandalism at the academy in 12 years, and not one has been solved. Not one! A week before Christmas, they ripped the shutters off the window, put a lump hammer through it and took the till and the Christmas money for the kids. They obviously knew what they were doing and had hoodies on so we couldn’t identify them. We have 24-7 CCTV and we filmed it all. It took three-and-ahalf minutes in total. It’s come to the point where I can’t claim on insurance. The excess is £1,000 and that was a £2,000 repair job. We can’t claim it because the premiums will go ridiculously high. We won’t get insured if we’re not careful. They also came through the roof at the end of 2015 and took all the slates off. They’ve even nicked the range balls! We leave them out at night because we’ve got about a thousand metres of three-metre high fencing. You’d think that would stop them, but they pulled out some of the fencing and took 10,000 balls.
The only reason I keep this place open is because of my love of golf. The field next to the driving range on the right is going to be a dumping ground for a million tons of waste over the next five years. At the moment, we are fighting to stop it. The prevailing wind is right-to-left, so you can imagine what it would be like every day. I’m due to buy the freehold for this place. Eventually, what we wanted to do was create a proper academy, and have a gym and hotel. There is a golf course at the end which used to be owned by the council, but is now leased by one guy. Again, he gets so much trouble with guys driving on the greens with cars and quad bikes. You wonder why people ever bother running a
Fire in his belly Danny’s heart was a big part of his Masters win.