- Tournament: ISPS HANDA UK Championship
- Race to Dubai: Tournament Number 21 on the 2020 Race to Dubai
- Venue: The Belfry, Sutton Coldfield, England
- Prize fund: €1,000,000
Former Masters champion Danny Willett will enjoy two new experiences when he makes his European Tour return in the 2020 ISPS HANDA UK Championship at The Belfry.
The Englishman’s wife Nicole will make her caddying debut on Thursday as her husband gets a first competitive taste of a venue which has staged four Ryder Cups and last hosted the British Masters in 2008, the year Willett turned professional.
Willett’s only experience of The Belfry prior to this week was as a teenage spectator during the practice rounds for The 2002 Ryder Cup, but if the course and caddie are not what the 32-year-old is used to then there will at least be plenty of familiar faces in the field, including his playing partners in World Number 30 Bernd Wiesberger and four-time European Tour winner Matt Wallace.
Meanwhile Lee Westwood will be hoping to put his course experience to good use this week. The 47-year-old was part of Europe’s winning Ryder Cup team at The Belfry in 2002 and captured the 2007 British Masters at the same venue, before being pipped by Gonzalo Fernandez-Castaño in a play-off the following year.
Germany’s Martin Kaymer finished tied for 21st here during his rookie season in 2007 and the two-time Major winner will be looking to improve on his record at the Sutton Coldfield course. He is joined by Spain’s Pablo Larrazábal and Romain Langasque of France, with the latter hoping for back-to-back victories after claiming his maiden European Tour title at the ISPS HANDA Wales Open last week.
Danny Willett: “It’s nice to see some more familiar faces and get back to the European Tour. I have my wife on the bag this week so we’re in our own little bubble so it should be good fun.
“Sam’s worked a lot and has been away from his friends and family a lot. He has done six-week stints in the USA with isolating both sides. This week is one where I said, you know what, my wife and I haven’t had more than two hours alone in seven months. So I said we’ll use this to have a bit of time together on our own. With everything being pretty strict over here with the bubble I thought it would be a good decision to have her.
“You know what I’ve never played this course before. I came here years and years ago to watch the practice rounds for The Ryder Cup. I came with my very first teaching professional Peter Bore from Burley. He brought a few juniors down for a few hours on one of the practice days, and that is it. I’ve obviously seen it a bit on TV and read a little bit, but nothing much. So I’ve picked up the yardage books this morning and we’re going to go play 18 holes this afternoon and see what it’s like.
“She has never caddied for me. We played golf together in the States and a couple of times back here. She’s a bit nervous, she doesn’t want to get anything wrong. Luckily we’ve got a nice draw with Bernd and Laney (caddie Jamie Lane), who’s a good pal of ours, and Wallace. So hopefully they’ll be raking bunkers for me and making sure she’s looked after.”
Lee Westwood: “It’s a while since I’ve been here and a while since I won here last in 2007. Obviously Ryder Cup here in 2002. My memories stretch back as far as coming to watch The Ryder Cup in 1989 and 1993, standing behind that 10th tee and watching Monty, Seve, people like that tee off. I’m sure there’s footage somewhere of a 16-year-old Lee Westwood watching The Ryder Cup.
“I haven’t played for a couple of weeks and not hit many balls but when you do come back to a venue that you have played well at in the past it stirs up great memories. I’m looking forward to playing this week.
“I’ve always felt that The Belfry is a golf course that suits the way I hit it. It’s a little bit tighter than it used to be. Everything has grown up a bit more, the golf course has definitely matured. It’s a good test, with a bit of a breeze there are some tricky shots out there. There is a lot of water on this golf course and a few intimidating shots.”
Martin Kaymer: “I’ve been working quite a bit on my golf – sometimes maybe a little too much. When I played the PGA Championship it was a hard week. I started off well but had a few issues with the body, hadn’t played in four months. The will is there. I’m looking forward to playing competitive golf again, especially here on the European Tour, the home of my golf where everything started. It’s nice to be here at The Belfry this week.
“I really enjoy golf courses like this, the old-style golf courses where you need to be very precise. Small areas on greens. It’s a course with a lot of history. I remember the first time I came here with my brother caddying for me. I think it was one of my first years on Tour. I have a lot of good memories here. To compete and maybe have a chance to win on such an iconic golf course would mean quite a lot.
“I just wanted to congratulate her (Sophia Popov) for an amazing performance. Before she was playing on the Cactus Tour in America, a year ago she was thinking about quitting golf. That is very inspiring from her. It shows that with golf you should never give up on your dreams. When you have the chance to play this incredible sport and you believe in yourself it will happen sooner or later.”
“That’s what we talked about on the phone. She didn’t really have the opportunity to perform on Tour the way she wanted, but she believed that she could do it. I know many people say it but you need to mean it and be honest with yourself. I think the way she talked about it she really was and she really did believe it. She proved it, so it was beautiful.”
Image credit Danny and Nicole Willett – European Tour