The coaches not paying much attention to the numerous recruiting service letters in their mailbox may want to take a closer look.
Jacksonville State head coach James Hobbs first saw the name Daniel Willett on one of those pieces of mail, from a Scotland-based service called Firstpointusa.com.
Hobbs, one of about 35 coaches that made contact with Willett, was able to sign the Sheffield, England native to his program in Jacksonville, Ala.
“It was a very effective way of doing it,” said Willett. He did not make any official visits to U.S. schools, but said Hobbs was one of the first to contact him, describing his coach as a “very genuine person.”
Willett was hoping to attract the attention of some larger schools, but by the time he heard from them, it was too late.
“I played a couple of bigger tournaments back home and played well, and when they noticed me I had already decided on Jacksonville State,” Willett said.
If the bigger programs didn’t notice him back then, Willett probably caught their attention during the 2005-06 season. He played 12 events in his freshman season, notching 11 top 10s, posting 23 of 35 rounds at par or better and recording a 71.83 scoring average. He finished the season No. 63 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings and was named Ohio Valley Conference Freshman of the Year.
“I played well, but was a bit disappointed to finish second a few times when I really had good chances to win,” Willett said. “I practice hard and it’s a shame when I don’t quite play as well as I expect.”
Willett did win once, at the Troy University Invitational. The victory came after posting rounds of 69-67-67 for a 13-under 203 total and a five-shot winning margin. He also finished runner-up three times.
“Daniel had as good a year as a freshman of any player I have ever coached,” said Hobbs, who has guided the Gamecocks since 1983. “(He’s) consistent. He was good every time he played, and has a great deal of confidence in his game.”
According to Hobbs, when Willett misses a green, he believes he can get it up-and-down for par from anywhere.
“He has great imagination around the greens and that comes from practicing it every day,” said Hobbs.
Willett said the transition to the United States has not been difficult.
“The people here are great and the weather is phenomenal compared to what I am used to. The weather is ridiculous here,” he said with a chuckle. “I wore shorts twice when I was at home for a couple of months. I wear shorts every day here. It’s just fabulous.”
Willett plans to stay in school until his eligibility runs out, and hopes to earn his degree. He enrolled in summer school this year and wants to do the same the next few years to stay ahead.
His worst showing last year came in his biggest event – the NCAA East Regional at Lake Nona Golf and Country Club in Orlando, Fla. Playing as an individual, Willett carded rounds of 77-72-77 to tie for 68th in the 140-player field.
Jacksonville State hopes to join Willett in the postseason next spring. The Gamecocks begin this year’s campaign Oct. 6 at the Mission Inn Collegiate Classic.
Hobbs feels his team could win the Ohio Valley Conference this year. Especially if Willett plays like he did a year ago.