JACKSONVILLE, AL (WBRC) - For the first time ever, Alabama's system of four-year colleges has a Master's golf champion alumnus.
Danny Willett, the British golfer who won this year's Masters on Sunday, wore Gamecock red long before he ever put on the green jacket. He was a member of the Jacksonville State University golf team in 2006 and 2007.
Golf coach John Hobbs recruited him out of Sheffield, England. Willett is one of many international students who often pop up on the various JSU athletic teams.
As Willett won, Hobbs was with the current JSU golf team on the road in Tennessee. The coach said he always knew Willett would go far.
"It's hard to put into words. You think about all these years and all of the great players I've been able to recruit and coach. To win a major championship is just a dream for those kids," Hobbs said in a statement released Sunday by the JSU sports information office.
"I knew Danny was a special player when he came here as a 17-year-old kid. There was just something special about him. Now he has a green jacket and, to me, it has a little red lining inside of it," Hobbs continued.
Hobbs said he went to Augusta earlier in the week to watch Willett.
"This is a proud moment for JSU, for our men's golf team and for our program. This puts a stamp on our program. We have a Masters champion that played at JSU," said Hobbs.
Sunday's statement says Willett was 2006 Ohio Valley Conference Freshman of the Year, won a medal at the 2007 OVC Championship, and was a First Team All-OVC performer and a member of the OVC's All-Tournament Team in both seasons. He left JSU in 2007 to return to Europe and the amateur golf tour, then went professional.
So how much is it worth to have an alumnus win the Masters? One JSU staff member can put a price tag on it.
Tim Garner, JSU's Director of Marketing and Communications, describes it in terms of "earned media," in which a "brand," like Jacksonville State University, gets media exposure it didn't pay for.
"In the branding world, your reputation is your brand, your brand is your reputation. Danny increased our reputation and our brand by millions," said Garner.
Garner estimated, for instance, the JSU football team finishing the 2015 playoffs at number two brought in $55-60 million. He expects the buzz about Willett to exceed that, citing mentions in European news outlets like the BBC.
He was able to account for more than 600 mentions to Jacksonville State in worldwide news outlets overnight following Willett's memorable win.
"Football only lasts here in the United States. Golf, in England, is wonderful," Garner continued.
For Jacksonville State's part, they plan to remember Willett in their own way. One is a billboard campaign, the other is "Danny Willett Day," which Garner says was already in the works before the Masters due to Willett's earlier success on the European circuit.