Luke Donald | Player Profile | Nedbank Golf Challengeon October 20, 2011
It was on the 16th hole at Kingsbarns golf course in Scotland when it finally happened. It was a day of glorious sunshine in the first round of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. It was the day that Luke Donald ended one of the most remarkable streaks in golf – 449 holes, or nearly 25 rounds, without a three-putt. It was an eight-footer for par, and he missed it. Yet this statistic reveals so much about a golfer who is considered by his peers to have the best short game on the planet, and which will stand him in good stead at the Gary Player Country Club. “It’s the little victories in golf that we look for,” says Donald, which shows a remarkable sense of purpose for a man who at number one in the world has the game at his feet.
Playing junior golf with his brother Christian, who later caddied for him on Tour, Donald soon distinguished himself. Following school he was all set to join the Stanford University golf team of Tiger Woods fame. But instead he joined Northwestern University, where he studied Art and won the NCAA Division I Men’s Golf Championship in 1999, beating the scoring record held by Woods. In 2001, he joined the professional ranks. His first victory came in November 2002, when he beat South Africa’s Deane Pappas by a single stroke to win the PGA Tour’s Southern Farm Bureau Classic. But subsequent victories did not come as fast as expected. It was in 2004 when he won again in the European Tour’s Scandinavian Masters and the Omega European Masters – both of them by five strokes. Again there was a lengthy gap in victories that followed before he won the 2006 Honda Classic on the PGA Tour. Then it was a frustrating four years before the next victory in the Madrid Masters on the European Tour.
Despite his earlier wins and being a solid Ryder Cup player, Donald was suffering at the hands of critics who believed he was simply too content to make money rather than win tournaments more regularly. “I know winning is a big deal and it’s the biggest deal, but being consistent is also important,” he argued.
In February 2011, Donald finally silenced the doubters when he beat Martin Kaymer 3 and 2 in the final of the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship. And it was his legendary short game that earned him the victory after he blew a 3-up lead in that match before holing key putts coming home to take the title. Even Kaymer was at a loss for words to explain what he’d just witnessed. “He’s probably the best in the world in the short game at the moment,” Kaymer said. “I played with Phil Mickelson a few times and it is unbelievable. But what Luke is doing at the moment is a joke.”
Donald will never say he had to prove anything to anybody. But he did admit, “The beginning of every year, I sit down and really try and think of ways I can create more opportunities and get more victories. But it didn’t happen so much in the last few years. Hopefully getting past that stage of going a number of years without winning will open up the flood gates, as they say.”
In 2011, the floodgates did indeed open. At Wentworth, in one of the European Tour’s flagship tournaments, Donald beat reigning world number one Lee Westwood in a playoff for the BMW PGA Championship, and in so doing became world number one for the first time in his career.
“Winning at Wentworth and what it meant was probably the highlight of the year for me. I’d missed a couple of opportunities to get to number one, so it was great to do it at the right time at Wentworth with a lot of family and friends in attendance that week.”
He has become the dominant player on the European Tour with another victory in the Scottish Open this year. But while he may be lacking a Major, he has underlined his number one status this year by challenging for money list honours on both the European and PGA Tours. Still, there are those who believe he has to win more stroke play events on the PGA Tour to justify his status as the world’s best golfer. But Donald places little store in this. “It doesn’t bug me. I’ve won a couple of pretty decent events in Europe. I might get some pressure from the American media, but as far as I’m concerned the European Tour is playing just as strong these days. We have great players and the world ranking is showing this. It’s also shown in some of the team events we’ve won lately. I think I’ve proved myself enough.”
And again, it’s the little victories that matter for Donald, such as consistency.
“I think every golfer wants to get to number one. But to stay there is another matter altogether.”
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