Jacksonville State golf program joyous after Willett wins Masters
By David Paschall
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – The number of Americans rooting for England's Danny Willett to defeat talented Texan Jordan Spieth in Sunday's final round of the Masters was minuscule.
So minuscule, in fact, that James Hobbs might know every one of them. Hobbs has coached golf for more than three decades at Jacksonville (Ala.) State University, where Willett was a star player in 2006 and 2007.
"I know that our alumni base and all of our students, staff and faculty were rooting for Danny Willett and were glued to the television and hanging on every shot, just like I was," Hobbs said Monday afternoon. "It was an amazing day for me and a monumental day for our university."
While Willett was shooting a 5-under-par 67 at Augusta National and benefiting from Spieth's quadruple bogey on the 12th hole, Hobbs was with four of his Gamecocks golfers at a college invitational in Nashville. When Hobbs located the clubhouse television and saw what was transpiring, he became transfixed.
Spieth was faltering in his bid to repeat. Willett was becoming the unlikely 80th Masters champion.
"I was just hoping he would have a good, strong finish and could wind up second," said Hobbs, who was a guest on "Press Row" on Chattanooga's ESPN 105.1 FM. "Then everything changed, and he was in the lead."
Willett's stunning victory Sunday moved him to No. 9 in the World Golf Rankings, his first venture into the top 10, but how did he get to JSU?
"I had a recruiting service that I had dealt with many times before for players," Hobbs said, "and they sent me word that they had a player from England who was looking for a school. His father was a minister and did not want him at a really big school or in a really big city. He wanted him in a small environment where there was not a lot of trouble he could get into, so he was very protective of Danny as far as where he went to school.
"I had a little bit of aid money, so I made some contacts with Danny and his family, made an offer, and he accepted. The next thing I know, he's on our campus. He brought a great attitude and a lot of confidence in his skills."
Willett was the Ohio Valley Conference freshman of the year in 2006 and a year later was the OVC tournament medalist and competed in the Walker Cup. By March 2008, Willett was back in England ranked as the world's No. 1 amateur and turned pro.
While at JSU, Willett often bickered with teammates about golf's biggest and most important major.
"Danny would always argue that the British Open was the only real major," Hobbs said, beginning to laugh. "My American guys would always say that he didn't understand and that the Masters was the greatest tournament of all. I can't wait to ask him what's the greatest major of all now that he's a Masters champion."
In addition to JSU being a smaller school in a small town, Hobbs also sold Willett on great spring and fall weather. Hobbs has something extra to sell recruits now, and it's a pitch he won't stop making any time soon.
"We tell everybody we recruit that Danny Willett played here, and it always raises an eyebrow," he said. "Danny has a great future. He showed yesterday that he can handle the pressure in that situation. Down the stretch, he made the birdies when he had to and made the pars when he had to. He had a great up-and-down on 17.
"I think Danny could be in the top five of the world rankings here in a short period of time."
This article was written by David Paschall from Chattanooga Times Free Press, Tenn. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.