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Donald beats his 'disease'

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Ben Dirs | 16:32 UK time, Tuesday, 5 April 2011

A couple of years back, an American journalist coined the term "Luke Donald Disease", meant as an ever-so-clever dig at what he saw as an under-achieving, gravy-train riding crop of British golfers. "Thanks for the cameo, thanks for the cheque," he wrote after watching Donald secure a top-five finish in the Open at Turnberry, "now back to the States for more of the same."

What, I wondered, did Donald have to say about that journalist now? "I don't think he writes about golf any more," the phlegmatic Englishman replied. "He got out of the job, because he wasn't doing a great one..."

Since those ill-chosen words made it to print, there have been seven different British winners on the US PGA Tour. One of them Donald. Oh, and five of the world's top 10 are British. Again, one of them Donald, currently at number four.

"It was an un-researched and very poorly written article," says the 33-year-old, winner of the WGC Match Play in Tucson in February, his first win in the States since 2006, and one of the world's hottest golfers heading into the Masters this week.

"My first couple of years on tour I was just trying to make enough money to stay on tour, money was an issue. But this is my 10th season, and the only thing I'm thinking about is picking up trophies."

Luke Donald with his wife Diane and daughter Elle after winning the WGC Match Play

Donald with his wife Diane and daughter Elle after winning the WGC Match Play. Photo: Getty

While Donald is able to joke about it now, the accusation of a lack of ambition still rankles. A player lacking in ambition does not decide to disassemble and rebuild a perfectly workable swing, as Donald did a few years ago. And a player lacking in ambition does not go hunting outside the box and hire Jonny Wilkinson's kicking guru, Dave Alred, whose stated aim was to transform Donald into an "assassin".

And an assassin Donald has become. On the course, at least. Last May he won his first title in two years in Madrid, sandwiched between a second place in the PGA Championship and third in the Wales Open. There were also five top-three finishes in the States last year, as well as a starring role in Europe's stirring Ryder Cup victory in Wales.

Then came that victory in Tucson, his first in a World Golf Championships event. As he said at the time, "the monkey is off my back".

"For a number of years I've been in the world's top 20, been a good player in the Ryder Cup, been very consistent throughout," says Donald, "but I hadn't won a tournament for five years in the US. It was disappointing for my fans, but more so for me. So it was nice to win again and know all that hard work I'd been putting in had paid off."

Hard work - and perspective. "It's hard to tell whether having my first baby [last February] has led to an improvement in my game," he says, "but it certainly looks that way. Suddenly the bad days on the golf course become less important: you forget about them quicker when you come home to a smiling little baby."

As well as having had his name given to a disease, Donald is also supposed to be a little bit boring. You've heard the bloke down the pub, the one who is probably a little bit boring: "That Donald, he's like all modern golfers, dull as dishwater, faceless like all the rest."

Luke Donald on Masters debut in 2005

Donald's best finish at Augusta was third on debut in 2005. Photo: Getty

So you might be surprised to learn Donald has his own wine label, serving up "Bordeaux-style red" from the Napa Valley, as well as a cheeky Chardonnay. The Hemel Hempstead native, an art major at college in Chicago, also paints when he finds the time, which, he admits, is not too often. But I'd wager that's two more hobbies than the bloke down the pub has got. Plus, Donald is miles better at golf.

Still, kids, hobbies and kicking gurus are all well and good, but there is no real substitute for experience. To this end Donald took the decision to take three weeks off before the Masters, snapping a run which began in Tucson and took in two top-10 finishes at the Honda Classic and the Cadillac at Doral.

"There's always a slight risk [taking a break when you are in form] but I looked at my schedule at the start of the year and I tend to not do too well if I play more than four in a row," says Donald, whose aim is to peak for the majors four times a year.

"So I didn't play Tampa and I don't have a great record at Bay Hill [where Scot Martin Laird won last week]. I'd rather go into Augusta high in confidence than play an event where I didn't feel comfortable on the golf course."

Anyone who had an early bet on Donald placing at the Masters need not panic, he hasn't been at home in Jupiter, Florida with his feet up. Rather, he has been attempting to tailor his game for Augusta National and fitted in a two-day recce of the course before arriving in Georgia this week.

While Donald has been focusing on shaping his shots right to left, which favours a lot of holes at Augusta, one thing he has not been doing is attempting to hit the cover off the ball. That was a trap he fell into a few years back, sick of seeing his rivals bomb their tee shots 50 yards past his, and it almost derailed his game.

"My coach [Pat Goss, who is with his charge in Augusta] has always told me to concentrate on making the rest of my game better than everyone else rather than trying to hit it harder," says Donald. "He never thought I was too short to compete.

"I've worked hard with Pat on a lot of different aspects of the game and I don't think many people have been able to rival me around the greens over the last few years. Driving it long is great, but you still have to get the ball in the hole."

Donald has been getting the ball in the hole in fewer shots than most of late, which means all eyes will be on him when he tees off on Thursday. But, quoting the great Billie Jean King, Donald insists the "pressure is a privilege".

"It's natural if you're playing well that there are going to be more eyes on you, but that's fine, that's a good thing," says Donald, who is playing in his seventh Masters this week.

"I always go to events believing I'm good enough to win. It's a tournament where I've made a bunch of birdies, made eagles, I know how to get around the course. I'm looking forward to the challenge." Luke Donald disease? That would be all about winning.

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  • Comment number 1.

    I will be keeping my fingers crossed for a Luke Donald victory at the Masters - a thoroughly decent bloke who has all the attributes to win at Augusta!

  • Comment number 2.

    Donald is amongst a host of British golfers in with a shout come Sunday evening. This is the year that one of them slips in to the green jacket

  • Comment number 3.

    Barker Davis was the reporter's name. I think he was a bit premature in his article which inferred that our players were nice guys and didn't have the will to make it to the top. At the time a number of our boys were threatening to breakthrough but had yet to really establish themselves by winning outside of Europe. They have done that now and in Tiger's recent demise we have seen them triumph consistently.

    Would be nice to see our boys win all four this year......

  • Comment number 4.

    I thought that article was spot on. None of those British guys have won a major yet.

  • Comment number 5.

    G Mac

  • Comment number 6.

    Murray - Well, Graeme McDowell won the US Open last year for starters, but the point is the journalist in question's claims are simply ill thought out and lazy. He basically claims the reason British players aren't winning majors is because they're not that bothered, which is patently ridiculous. As I said in my blog, Donald rebuilt his swing a few years back, and that's not the behaviour of a complacent player. Also, and as someone else pointed out at the time, Donald spent the build-up to Turnberry honing his game on the links of Scotland rather than chasing quick bucks at the Scottish Open.

  • Comment number 7.

    I am a great admirer of Luke Donald, but he DOES have Luke Donald disease! If the definition of that is coining $20M for three wins. No-one has won more PGA Tour money with just three visits to the winners enclosure.
    Luke may have rebuilt his swing, but to what effect? He's still short and crooked, still sprays it when in contention, and his best-short-game-in-the-world doesn't disguise the fact that he hasn't won as much as a golfer of his talent (admittedly the product of natural ability AND hard work) might reasonably be expected to.

    Is there a perception in the US that European golfers pile up owgr points in Europe and bottle it when they play in the USA? YES!!! Is it true? Probably not, but none of the current crop of European golfers have won more in the US than Donald's three tournaments (one a 54-hole rain-shortened event) apart from Garcia.
    "Quick bucks at the Scottish Open"? Not if he missed the cut, unless he was being slipped beaucoup appearance money. Not to mention the fact that he was (I'm assuming here) obligated to play the following week for his sponsor in Canada, the PGA Tour equivalent of appearance money.

    Luke has a great chance this week, but his course management has been like a haywire GPS on occasion at Augusta and hopefully he'll be able to retain focus for 72 holes and contend to the last, win preferably.

    Not exactly as bad as your severed head effort Mister Ben, and much better than the geographically challenged piece about Luke in The Independent by a guy called Corrigan who confuses Florida with Chicago and Illinois with Louisiana. Pathetic.

    Good luck, Luke, hoping you enjoy a wonderful Masters and a great year. But a dose of reality's not a bad thing either.
    Assassin? Let's hope so. And your paintings? Superb.

  • Comment number 8.

    Guys Graeme Mcdowell is NOT British. He is from Northern Ireland which is part of the United Kingdom...not Britain. Will the BBC please stop getting this wrong!!

  • Comment number 9.

    Ben - take your point that the Telegraph article is 'ill thought out' and I would add, poorly worded. Perhaps it is also typical of the trend for hyperbole and overstatement of many of todays commentators and critics. However, I do think there is a kernal of truth to it. Take your 'not bothered' interpretation (and lets be fair, that is what he says) and treat it as an overstatement of 'lacks the pyschology, or experience' (and he does mention the experience bit). Then it becomes a more valid argument. MacDowell has shown tremendous mental strength and coolness under pressure in winning a major, and in his Ryder Cup exploits. Kaymer gives off the impression that he is a machine, and simply immune to pressure. But other young guns have not shown such composure in a tight sport, outside of the Ryder Cup, or have only shown it very recently, or very briefly. Take the current flavour of the month, Martin Laird. Blown it several times coming down the stretch, only in the last 12 months has he turned those situations into wins. Westwood has been in the hunt for several majors in the last few years, having bounced back from a miserable stretch, but is yet to show the kind of late scoring burst that many of the best show. Casey, for example, last year, got into Masters contention, then blew up. Rose seemingly consistently plays 2 rounds out of 4 in majors very well, and then has a disasterous round.

    At the time it was written, that Telegraph article pointed to a trend of European failures under pressure, even if the conclusion that it was due to lack of ambition was wrong. There is still a ring of truth to the charge that 'in the crucible of actual contention' European players have something to prove. I think, though, that the up turn in general success on the US tour, combined with a number of other factors, mean that many of those same Europeans are now on the brink, ready to join Kaymer and MacDowell as major winners, ready to show the mental fortitude to withstand the slings and arrows of coming down the stretch in contention at a major; to see the opportunity to win a major, and have the kind of deadly burst of scoring that grabs that opportunity, that we've seen so often from the likes of Woods and Mickelson in the recent past.

    But yeah - lack of amibition it is not. It is more better termed Norman Disease, if you ask me. Or Montgomery-itis.

  • Comment number 10.

    #9, matzov,
    Don't let the facts get in the way of your dogma.
    Your comments about Laird are ridiculous; where are your examples of Laird being in contention more than 12 months ago and failing to win? He had a couple of high placings, to be sure, but was never contending to win. First time he did, in Las Vegas, he won.
    Casey: "Last year got into Masters contention, then blew up." He didn't even make the cut.
    Your name is not Corrigan by any chance?

  • Comment number 11.

    Petty squabbling - Donald is a class act, and I for one believe his touch around the green could just make the difference this week.

    Only one of a number of exceptionally good players can ever win a tournament, and whether in the Masters or this Saturday's medal at my own course, you can be sailing along compiling the score of your life, then out of nowhere, a bad lie (Donald finds a divot on the 3rd fairway when in a share of the lead with Tiger in the USPGA a few years ago - he doubled Tiger birdies and the tournament was over), a bad bounce (I hit a sprinkler head last Sunday and disappeared into a gorse bush - unplayable and a double bogey ensued!!) or simply a bad swing with awful consequences (Justin Rose on the 17th at Augusta a few years ago). The margins are so very very fine !

    I am sure they all enjoy the trappings of their increadible wealth (just follow them on Twitter and see!!) but my guess is that once they step on the first tee, money is irrelevant.

    Great article Ben - here's hopeing for a miracle cure to Donalds Disease this weekend and that Tigeritis continues.

  • Comment number 12.

    kwiniaskagolfer -

    Indeed, never let the facts get in the way... Laird finished 4, 4 and 7 in the space of a month in 2008. Thats over 12 months ago right? He then came 2nd in the same Tahoe-Reno tournament that he finished 4th in the year before. All that before the Justin Timberlake win in 2009. Then, in 2010 he had a 4, two 2s and a 3. I'd say that was evidence of getting into contention, and not winning. Moreover, a decent percentage of those performances, were at the same two tournaments. This year is a real change of form trend.

    But don't let an odd definition get in the way of the chance to make a snide comment, which you seem keener on, that sensible discussion.

    With Casey you are absolutely right to point out my error. I was thinking of his 2008 performance...

  • Comment number 13.

    My point was, matzov, that he wasn't in contention, just had great finalk rounds which lifted him up the leaderboard or, in the case of Reno2, John Rollins was so far ahead - Laird three shots behind but shot 69 in Round 4.
    He didn't play well in the last few holes at Kapalua, but was never going to beat Ogilvy.

    No "petty squabbling" Tony, but facts are facts, neatly avoided by Dirs' Donald diagnosis.
    Like you, I hope Luke has a great week.

  • Comment number 14.

    Daveolengend - You say that Graeme Mcdowell isn't British because Northern Ireland isn't part of the Britain! This has nothing to do with it! All citizens of Northern Ireland are deemed to be British, however under the 1998 Belfast Agreement they also are entitled to be Irish citizens. It's a personal choice, and it's far too simplistic to say that if you're from Northern Ireland, you're not British.

  • Comment number 15.

    He doesn't hit it far enough to win, but I did have 15 each way at 33 to 1 for the par 3!!!!! :)

  • Comment number 16.

    You don't have to be a massive hitter to win at Augusta; his approach and superb short game is ideal to get round there in a very low score. Just needs it to stay dry!

    Please go and read more of my thoughts about the upcoming tournament at :)

  • Comment number 17.

    The article is a bit too much of a puff, just as that to which it responds was a bit too much of a hatchet job. Donald is a very fine golfer and he conducts himself well, he's one of many in with a chance but he's got to make that leap up before his career can justify pieces like this. I don't think that winning his 3rd PGA title in 10 years at the Matchplay catapults him into a different stratosphere any more than winning the Madrid Open last year between a couple of handy placings did. And please, let's hear no more about the importance of Ryder Cup performances from European journalists.

    I accept that the European challenge is broader than before, but I think that it lacks the cutting edge at its apex that existed in the mid 1980's to the mid 1990's. Harrington, Kaymer, and GMac have won Majors for sure, but a European crowd that consisted of Lyle, Faldo, Woosnam, Olazabal, Langer, and Ballesteros (admittedly they did not all peak at the same time) was surely stronger than the current bunch whatever the world rankings might say.

    Don't get me wrong, I'd love one of them to win it, but (with the exception of Harrington, Kaymer, and GMac) that would be the time for a puff piece like this, not before.

  • Comment number 18.

    actually you are completely wrong. northern ireland is not and has never been a part of great britain, hence the title 'the united kingdon of great britain AND northern ireland'. britain is the island that includes england, scotland and wales. it becomes the united kingdom when it includes northern ireland. so Mcdowell is not british at all and davolengend is absolutely correct in what he said. following the 98 belfast agreement nothing RE this matter changed one bit. yes, they may now be able to call themselves irish, but they are still not british, in the same way that a sicilian may be called italian but an italian from the mainland cannot be called sicilian. i think you completely misunderstood davolengends point, he was not trying to make a political point he was saying that those in northern ireland are not british citizens and he was simply stating a fact.

  • Comment number 19.

    '4th again. Nice cheque though. Where's my vineyard? Ooh...US Open in June, mark that on my calendar dear, I can make $50,000 just for showing up.'


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