Donald eager to make up for lost time
It was supposed to have been a big year for Luke Donald. He'd made subtle swing changes and heading into the meat of the season he was wondering whether he could challenge for a first major and secure a third successive place in a European Ryder Cup team.
Critics were still wondering why his best rounds were coming after he had played himself out of contention, others were saying he would never have what it takes to win a big one.
But Donald was upbeat and ploughing on with optimism. 2008 had begun pretty well with third place and runners up finishes recorded on the PGA Tour by the beginning of March.
Not much happened for a while after that, but at the Players' Championship he was encouraged, feeling that the alterations to his action were falling into place.
At Wentworth in late May he fired a final round 65 to finish third in the European Tour's flagship PGA Championship. The next week he opened the Memorial with a 68 and went on to finish sixth.
The curve was encouraging with the US Open coming into view at Torrey Pines where he'd done well before. Donald opened the second major of the year with two steady 71s - just two shots worse than eventual champion Tiger Woods.
In round three it fell apart, the Englishman drifted out of contention and a day later his season was in tatters, not that he thought so at the time.
Donald suffered a wrist injury during that final round and withdrew. "You always have in the back of your mind that it might be serious," he told me on Five Live this week. "But when I saw the first doctor he though it was just some tendonitis and I'd be back playing in two to three weeks.
"Obviously that didn't turn out to be the case and five months later I'm just about getting back to playing a good standard of golf. It was a lot longer break than I anticipated, but these things happen sometimes."
Donald thought intensive treatment would be enough to repair the damage but that didn't prove the case. With each week that past it became more and more apparent that the only option was surgery.
"I tried to go down the natural way of mending it and I went down that way for a good five weeks but the tear was just too significant and it was never going to repair by itself and on August the 11th I went under the knife.
"It all went great, to be honest, it's a timely process but now it should be fixed for ever," Donald added.
The timing could hardly have been worse, especially in a Ryder Cup year. "Missing the majors and the Ryder Cup and having to watch them from afar was the hardest thing," Donald said.
"Especially the Ryder Cup. Hats off to the American team but I just wish I had been out there to see if I could have made any kind of difference for the Europeans."
Donald has had time to come to terms with the injury and now as he contemplates next week's comeback at Sun City in South Africa he does so in a philosophical mood.
"It just wasn't to be, but it has made me appreciate that from time to time you are going to get these kinds of setbacks."
And he is convinced that he is now returning better equipped than ever before. "The one thing I think that I have going for me is that I was able to build up my game from the ground up," he said.
"Six weeks after the surgery I was able to start putting. After eight weeks I was able to do some light chipping, from that it was twenty yards shots then thirty yards and so on.
"It's actually a good way to practice and to work your way to the longer shots. Now I've been hitting balls for fully for two or three weeks now.
"It is tough at times but once I get a few tournaments under my belt and get those competitive juices flowing again then it should all come back to me.
"I've worked a lot on my short game and my short game fundamentals are as good as they have ever been. My swing is improved as well and the longer clubs are the ones that I'm finding hard to manipulate and so I'm working hard on getting good fundamentals to make sure injuries like this don't happen again."
Donald says he enjoyed the fact that he didn't have to travel as much during his absence and watched "way too much of the Olympics in the summer."
As an art graduate from Northwestern University he also devoted time to his passion for painting, completing a work he had previously started and producing a modern art piece.
But now it is all about playing again and putting attractive numbers on leaderboards. He plans to maintain a schedule that takes in the European Tour as well as the PGA Tour and may play up to fourteen events in the Race to Dubai.
"I've got to manage my expectations and not expect everything just to fall into place like it was before. The first two tournaments will give me an idea of where I stand.
"That's the next step for me, go out there play some competitive rounds and try to improve from there."
Donald turns 31 in early December and is entering the prime of his career. He's won twice on the PGA Tour and twice in Europe, along with victories for England in the World Cup and in Tiger Woods' limited field event.
There have been occasions when he has flickered in the majors and Europe did miss his steadiness at the Ryder Cup.
It's good to have Donald back and his progress will be well worth watching.