Luke Donald: Credit to the Game and Perfect Idol for Aspiring Sportsmen

All the talk of Luke Donald’s prospective achievements on both sides of the pond has prompted me to pay homage to a man that, in my view, is the epitome of what can be achieved with application, the right attitude, and the will to improve. Those reading the previous sentence might  question my supposedly hasty use of the word achievement, given that he could easily come away from the season with no money titles; something that I view as almost irrelevant. Yes, success is measured by results, but that is only one side to the story. If Donald doesn’t win player of the year, it will be nothing short of a travesty. To achieve the level of consistency that he has achieved; to seemingly be in contention every week; to have single handedly rejected the notion that length is a prerequisite to success, is truly remarkable. As I write this, Donald leads the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic. He has put all the hype to one side, and delivered, yet again. It Donald isn’t in contention, it is a surprise – how could anyone dispute such a comment? Over the past decade, how many other players could this statement genuinely apply to? Think, and then tell me if anyone else deserves player of the year. Simpson is the obvious rebuttal, and he is the only possible candidate for second, but a man who plays 18 events, makes 16 cuts, and finishes in the top 18 on 15 occasions is a man that should be honoured for his staggering achievement.

To make it digestible in quantitative terms, I present some statistics. This year, Donald has made 16 cuts and finished in the top 18 (I have chosen the top 18, as the generally accepted top 25 category is too broad for someone that hasn’t finished between 19 and 25th) on 15 occasions. So, after making the cut, he finished in the top 18 93.8% of the time. It is extremely interesting to see how this percentage compares with those that won (or are leading) the money list, going back to 2005:

2011 – Webb Simpson – 17/22 (top 18’s/cuts made) – 77%

2010 – Matt Kuchar – 18/26 – 72%

2009 – Tiger Woods – 16/16 – 100%

2008 – Vijay Singh – 13/23 – 57%

2007 – Tiger Woods – 14/16 – 88%

2006 – Tiger Woods – 12/14 – 86%

2005 – Tiger Woods – 16/19 – 84%

2011 – Luke Donald – 15/16 – 94%

What a phenomenal performance from Donald. Tiger Woods is the only one with a higher percentage, coming in 2009, and in a nice piece of symmetry, arguably the only one, aside from Donald, that fits into the aforementioned category: if he isn’t in contention, it’s a surprise.

Given performance and statistics on the PGA Tour, it would be easy to forget that Donald is truly an international golfer, and, if you chose to measure success by victory, then he has been more successful on the European Tour this season. A stunning first-round 64 at a lengthened Wentworth led to a play-off victory over Lee Westwood at the BMW Championship, and he strolled to victory at the Barclays Scottish Open.  Only a select few have mastered the skill of playing on both tours in the same season. Donald has a great chance to become the first player to win both money lists. This season, no one has come close to achieving what Donald has.

Such achievements are more impressive given Donald’s start to life on tour. He didn’t burst on to the scene like so many before (and after) him. Indeed, his first victory on the PGA Tour came three years after his first appearance. He is a testament to hard work and the desire to improve yourself; to want to be the best. Natural talent means nothing if you don’t have the work ethic to match. Look at players like Pat Perez. When Woods came into the equation, he was immediately touted as a future world number one. After the end of the 2002 season, who would have predicted the same for Donald? He has made himself the best, and no one has ever deserved to be world number one more than the man from Beaconsfield.

Donald’s attitude is also exemplary. He plays the game as it is meant to be played, and practices as if his life depended upon it. He is always decent and well mannered, even when continually asked questions that must be extremely irksome to him. Questions about his length, for example. As I remember it, Donald had no trouble reaching the 7th at the TPC Boston in two shots and knocking in a putt for eagle, the same Donald who won on the longest course on tour at the Accenture World Matchplay. Donald is adaptable, and has the game for any conditions. He has continually challenged himself to be as good as he possibly can. This is the kind of role-model we need in modern sport; someone who displays genuine humility and recognises the link between what people see on television and how they act. So much disrespect towards officials in other sports stems from this fundamental problem. Would you find Donald jamming his wedge into the fairway, as Jason Day did at the Deutsche Bank? Not a chance. Modern sport is in dire need of more professionals that are genuine ambassadors for the game they play, and who conduct themselves as such.

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2 Comments

  1. thethinman

    Yes, Luke Donald has been a great example of sportsmanship and professionalism in professional sports and golf in particular. Particularly in contrast to and in light of past 2 years events of Tiger Woods, Luke’s image is more warming and makes us all say ‘ah, isn’t this what golfers are supposed to be.’ But, that’s where the buck stops. The key factor keeping him from the winners circle more often is in the very example you gave about Jason Day throwing his club down on the fairway: the lack of real competitive spirit, tenacity, “a-nastiness,” the “I’m gonna kick everyone’s but today” attitude; I’ll show them, etc, etc, etc…That split-second moment when you lose control of your emotions and actions and shout the four-letter word or slam your club to the ground, whatever; displays that FIRE IN THE BELLY. My opinion, Luke Donald lacks the real fire-in-the-belly. He’s too nice, soft, maybe too concerned with image. As one famous coach once said, “Just win baby.” To win in sports, one must be willing to take risks. And sometimes, high risks. Luke Donald does not take risks. He’s too conservative; and his golf game reflects this. Hence, low rewards and too few trips to the winners-circle.

    Though Luke Donald has been very consistent he cannot be given the label of a “winner.” Athletes ultimately will be known for winning or losing. Until Luke Donald can win more consistently, he’ll just be known as a consistent golfer who’s a nice guy.

    • Interesting point of view, and I see where you are coming from. I think Disney will be huge for Donald, where he showed all the characteristics that one needs to regularly frequent the winners circle. I for one can’t wait to see how he starts next season, becuse a Donald with a winners attitude and fire in the belly is a seriously worrying thought for his competitors

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