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The Masters 2024: Danny Willett making injury comeback six months earlier than expected

The Masters 2024: Danny Willett making injury comeback six months earlier than expected

The doctors told Danny Willett he would be out for 12-18 months after undergoing surgery on his left shoulder. Instead, he’s making his comeback at The Masters this week after just six months away from the game.


The 2016 Masters champion had been struggling with a long-term shoulder tear that was exacerbated by playing golf, and it all came to a head during his appearance at the BMW PGA Championship last September.

Having withdrawn from the Horizon Irish Open due to a flare-up, Willett continued on his recurring cycle of rehabbing and playing and teed up feeling good the following week at Wentworth. Despite an MRI revealing the tear had doubled in size earlier in the week, things initially seemed OK during a birdie burst in the first round, but that quickly changed during the back nine.

While he made the cut and finished tied 67th, the following Monday he met with a surgeon and the outcome was worse than he and his team had initially thought.

With surgery the best option for him long-term, Willett quickly accepted that he was facing a long break from the game, but exceeded both doctors and his own expectations by being able to make his return this week at the scene of his memorable Major Championship triumph in 2016.

"It was something that needed doing," Willett told the DP World Tour from Augusta National.

"The last couple of events I played were the Irish Open where I pulled out and Wentworth where I played alright and then it flared up again, it's just been really hard. Week in, week out, it was painful, and you're training so much just to try and get it into a place where you can think you can be able to move and swing a golf club all week, but ultimately, when the doctors went into the shoulder, it was worse than what we thought. In the end it's a good decision, and mentally I've come around to the fact that it needed doing, and I needed to do it now.

"The doctors said it would take 12 to 18 months, and we're just over six. I don't think any of them really would have given me a sniff of playing this week so even the fact there's a chance, you know, of being able to you know to peg it up. Obviously I'll definitely play two rounds, but hopefully you know we can keep knocking off the rust and try and play well."


Putting it down to both an exceptional team and his gritty personality, Willett says his ability to make a comeback at The Masters has been the result of countless hours of hard work.

The Englishman spent six weeks in a 90 degree cast that he could only take off to shower, and spent four months doing an extensive daily rehab routine that included ice baths, saunas, gym work - in addition to spending time visiting and working with a variety of specialists.

Part of that routine was keeping a daily diary that Willett used to reflect on and improve his rehab, looking back to try and learn from both good and bad days as they developed the best regime for him to follow.

"I'm a relatively gritty human being.

"And we just had a great team of people that was helping with the rehab and I made it my goal to kind of do that every day. You know, my job for three or four months was to get up and do all the boring stuff that I needed to do to make sure that the movement was there.

"I really invested in myself. I went down to London to see the specialists and did all the work with them, I had people around me that knew what they were talking about and then ultimately I put the hours in myself in the gym at the house with the saunas and the ice baths and your rehab and then the gym stuff. Just kind of really building it back up from zero. It's just time and hard work, but it's proven to work.

"I had that on (a 90 degree cast) for six weeks, and that's not pleasant. I was sleeping in it, and then you only take it off when you shower. You can't really do anything in it. Luckily it was my left arm. Obviously not great for golf with my left arm, but just in terms of general life stuff.

"I took video clips along the way and, I look back and in the first three or four weeks every time you took it out of that cast to kind of stretch it off or do some of your shoulder mobility stuff it felt like my shoulder was going to fall off. So from there to come to where we are now with the ability to lift the weights and do the bits and be stronger, it's now about knocking the rust off.

"I kept a journal for myself. You know, documenting good days, bad days. When you have a good day, looking at what was it? And then see if you can obviously replicate that. Bad days, can you look back and see if there is anything that you've done that didn't help. And again, the guys helped me out. It's the same with the exercises: Were there any of the exercises that really resonated and helped more than what others did, or were there ones that kind of just aggravated a bit?

"Between us all, we've now got a pretty in-depth thing of weights lifted, reps done, the amount of weight we've shifted over the course of the six months - all of that. Fingers crossed nothing ever happens like that again, but if anything was to happen like that, or even if a friend had a shoulder injury, I'd be pretty confident that I could then really help them out and know what I'm doing."

With his hard work paid off earlier than he anticipated, Willett is making a cautious return to Augusta National admittedly pain-free but admittedly rusty when it comes to his golf game as he adapts to slightly changed mechanics.

"Now it's just a case of knocking the rust off and practising all the shots that I'll need for this week, because I was never planning on me being ready for this. So after this I've still got eight weeks off until the next tournament so you know, the goal is to then keep getting stronger with it and keep playing and practising to make sure that when I come back fully in the beginning of June that hopefully we're coming back with a shout of actually competing.

"The body feels really good, the body’s strong. I'm able to hit balls. It is purely the just reps of standing over a tee shot and knowing that the swing you're going to make is going to produce the shot you want to make. That’s really now the side of it that I'm trying to get my head around because before I made this move, the ball would do this, or you'd make this move and the ball would do this.

"I've not quite hit enough, and obviously things have changed. The mechanics of my actual body have changed, the muscle structure around my shoulder has changed, so everything's kind of different. It's one of them where you've just got to then really be patient with yourself and you know. I said I'm playing and you've got to just take it easy and really just try and come up with the way and a strategy of getting around the golf course that's going to ultimately be the easiest and less stressful through the week, not taking on any shots that you really don't think you've got a chance of hitting all that kind of stuff just. And then, ultimately really trying to enjoy yourself at what is a really special place for us.

"I guess the work I'm doing will always be classed as rehab but the training now is really good solid training. Lifting a lot, fitness stuff's been fine, but now it's a little bit more of the golf specific stuff in how the hip and pelvis and stuff moves. But in terms of the shoulder now, it's just trying to make sure that it can take as much load as possible and the mechanics of it are now fine.

"Like I said, now that we're back fully fit, it doesn't hurt at all. So it's now just trying to get it to a place where mechanically it's sound, and it's now golf reps and hitting the different shots."

The significance of this week for Willett is a special one, and his feelings towards this tournament helped him to decide to make his comeback at Augusta National - despite the difficulty of the actual course.

"It's a tough golf course to make your comeback on, but in terms of a week, it's amazing, it's it's always going to be a really special place.

"The patrons, you know, all the staff up here at Augusta, I know everyone and it's just nice to come back. You really do feel like you know you are part of something really special when you come and step on property so to be coming back is probably not the wisest move in terms of your golf game (the challenge), but in terms of the whole week, you know there's probably no event better than this to come back to.

"It's the one place that everyone wants to play every year. Obviously being British, The Open is a massive Major for me, but in terms of globally, it's got to be the biggest Major in the world. Obviously being at the same place every year makes it that extra bit special and then the history around it adds to that because you've seen the same shot from the same places, it really is just an incredibly special place. And fortunately for me, I get to come back here for the rest of my life, so it's a pretty cool ticket."

It will be a slightly different week for the Englishman though, who comes with his wife Nicole but without the rest of his family.

He'll be forgoing one of his favourite traditions - the Par 3 contest - this year too, in order to focus purely on making his return. And while he counts memories of those times celebrating with his family among his best memories at Augusta, Willett is still very much looking forward to enjoying everything he can about his favourite week of the year.

"We usually come up with all the family but this week is different because I wasn't going to play, so it's just me and my wife this year," he said.

"It'll be a bit quieter, but by the same token you know it'll still be nice, but unfortunately not going to be doing all the family stuff like the Par 3 and bits like that.

"It was more one of them where if I was going to try and compete and play, it was kind of just get the head down and see if we can kind of just push that extra little bit these last few days and really see if we can be in a place where we feel like we've at least got a sniff of playing all right.

"So, being back here and just being on the property and walking the fairways, being part of it and everything that goes around it, it's a pretty special week for me."

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