By Larry Fine
(Reuters) - Danny Willett has had a bumpy ride on the golf course since his surprise victory at the Masters last year, but the Englishman reckons he will be all smiles when he returns next month to defend the green jacket.
A celebratory period after his surge to victory past a floundering Jordan Spieth, enjoying life at home with his baby boy and handling expectations after claiming his maiden major all took a toll on his game.
"I had some up‑and‑downs in the last 12 months," Willett, who has yet to win since his Masters triumph, told a conference call on Tuesday from Bay Hill, where he is playing in this week's Arnold Palmer Invitational.
A bubbly enthusiasm rose in his voice as he talked about his return to Augusta National for the April 6-9 tournament.
"I'm pretty sure that as I get even within the area of Augusta, there's going to be a big Cheshire smile on my face," said Willett.
"And then when you actually drive down Magnolia Lane and you park in the car park and go put your shoes on, obviously it's going to be different. I'm going to be able to slip my shoes on in the champions locker room upstairs."
Last season Willett became worn down by a schedule that included the Rio Olympics and a difficult Ryder Cup, where he was heckled relentlessly by galleries after his brother wrote a magazine story that crudely lampooned American golf fans.
Willett felt burned out by year's end.
"You see yourself win one of the best golf tournaments in the world. You feel like you should be able to do that every week, but unfortunately this isn't a game that you can do that," he said.
"If I'm going to compare every week to that (Masters) week, I'm going to be pretty disappointed because I don't think that you can recreate that week."
Willett, 29, said he has returned to the game refreshed after an extended Christmas break.
"We finished sixth in Hong Kong and we finished fifth in Malaysia a few weeks ago," he said. "The game is not far away."
A return to Georgia might be just the tonic, not only for this year but going forward since champions are always welcomed back.
"It's going to be an amazing feeling to be able to go back there and for now, forevermore, my name is in history at that golf club and I'm going to be able to go there and be part of the Augusta family."
(Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue)