Luke Donald opens up about his fall from world number one and tells us how he intends to climb back to the top.
Four years ago Donald was on top of the world. Though that Major championship eluded him, he'd climbed to the top of the game, winning the money lists on both sides of the Atlantic. How times have changed.
Today, after a loss of form and possibly desire, and without a Tour victory in four years, the 38-year-old is 77 places down the world rankings, and still waiting for that Major.
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These are testing times for the popular Englishman, who even contemplated hanging up his clubs. "I was feeling a bit down about my game, and my confidence had taken a big knock and I asked myself if I wanted to continue," he told TG at The Grove.
"I couldn't see much light at the end of the tunnel, but then I told myself not to be a baby and to grow up." Things were so bleak that long-time caddie John McLaren decided to seek employment elsewhere.
But Donald isn't a quitter. He can see a ray of hope, but admits it won't be easy getting back to the game's summit, adding: "I need to be one of the best in the world with my short game if I'm going to be successful with the way I play golf. But it's improving and coming back, and as long as I'm mentally in the right place, I think good stuff will happen."
He has plenty of challenges ahead and enjoyed hosting the British Masters, supported by Sky Sports, at The Grove last month (October13-16) and here he takes us through his plans to return to the winners' circle...
Q: Let's get the negative stuff out of the way – why did you slip so dramatically down the world rankings?
A: I was probably listening to too many people around me about what I need to improve to win Majors rather than concentrate on what I was good at and being focused on that.
I concentrated too much on my weaknesses and after a year of not seeing any improvement, I tried to change things round. But unfortunately during that time I lost a bit of confidence. Mentally I thought the changes would result in something positive, but that didn't happen so mentally I took a bit of a hit and it takes time to regain that. But finally I can see a lot of light at the end of the tunnel now.
Q: Were you trying too hard?
A: I don't think my effort level has ever changed. Again, it's just more of the wrong focus – focusing too much on what I didn't do well rather than what
I do great.
Q: How close were you to quitting?
A:We all go through rough patches. When you work hard at your game and don't see the results, it's frustrating. I've had
a lot of success and it was a fleeting thought that maybe it was time to do something else. I think we all have these thoughts from time to time. But
I realised that I'm a golfer, that's what
I do and I love competing. I'm not ready to do something different just yet. Great success doesn't come from being successful all the time – it's the tough times that give you the perspective that truly leads to more success.
Q: Any hard feelings towards previous caddie John McLaren?
A: John is now caddying for Paul Casey, and no hard feelings. Mick Doran has been working for me since the start of the year, and brings with him 29 years of experience, having caddied for the likes of Darren Clarke, Lee Westwood and Justin Rose in the past. He's a great asset to Team Donald.
Q: What's driving you on now?
A: Well, I've a lot more to achieve in this game and obviously I want to get back into the winners' circle, get back into the world top 50 and play in Majors and world events. I'm pretty close to accomplishing all that, just a few good weeks here and there, so I'm excited about the challenge. I've got to take each week as it comes.
Q: What's it like hosting your own event?
A: Being asked to be one of the British Masters ambassadors is something I'm very proud of. A few years ago we were looking to get some more events in Britain and I see this as a great opportunity with, I guess, the English statesmen of the game – Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood, Justin Rose and myself hopefully helping to bring the British Masters back to life. It's my turn this year and I chose The Grove because it's close to where
I grew up, while the golf course has already hosted a
World Golf Championship event. It's a great Kyle Phillips design,
a tremendous all-round facility with a tremendous hotel and I'm sure the players will love it.
Q: It means a lot to you then?
A: That's right. And we want to try and create a legacy for this event and get it back on the board as one of the premier events. Obviously Sky Sports has been very generous by presenting it and doing a great job with that – we want to continue that every year to make the event better and get to a point where players really want to put it on their schedule.
Q: Getting youngsters involved is a crucial way of promoting the game?
A: Yes, it's important to keep introducing kids to the game and we want them to be engaged in the event and come out and watch the pros. I remember as a kid walking and running around Wentworth and Sunningdale in events such as the European Open and World Match Play. There were a lot of events back then and hopefully this is a step to continue to grow golf in Britain.
Q: Do you think the top players, such as yourself, have a key role and responsibility to help make this happen?
A: We're figureheads and trying to help use our names to not only attract a good field, but also to attract a good audience and fans through gates. Sky Sports are also doing a tremendous
job with a lot of fun stuff such as the masterclasses they did last year.
Q: How do you see the future of the game?
A: I think golf is in a good spot right now. Jordan, Jason, Rory and Rickie are creating many good storylines, the game is in safe hands. But there are a lot of challenges in golf – it's quite slow, it takes a lot of time, and money, to play, so you've got to look at different ways to show kids that this is fun.
Q: How much would it mean to win here?
A: That would be nice. I had a good run last year and finished fifth at Woburn, but I feel like my game is trending the right way. I've had some good finishes in the past couple of months and it's certainly going to be a fun event for me. Being the host, I'd dearly love to hand myself the trophy! I'm excited I'll be back in October... hopefully with a bit of warm sunshine!
Q: After such a lengthy spell in the doldrums, how is your own game shaping up?
A: I'm gradually getting more confident – I was in the final group on Sunday on the PGA Tour and had a chance to win, but didn't quite close it out. You've got to keep putting yourself in position and
I certainly haven't put myself in such
a position for a year or two. I've been working very hard with coach Pat Goss, who is taking care of all parts of my game. I'm excited about the control
I feel with the ball and I've started to see a lot more improvement with my short game, which has always been my strength. It's coming together...
Q: Do you think you're at a big disadvantage off the tee against today's bombers?
A: Going back with Pat we primarily focus on my strengths. I think I got away from that when I tried searching for ways to really improve my weaknesses. We try and improve all parts of my game and we concentrate on some weaknesses, and driving is included in that. But in reality I'm never going to be the straightest or the longest, so I've got to do what I know what works out for me to be as good as I can be. The good thing is, I know the formula for me to get to No.1. I've done that before.
Q: But now you've a lot of young new competition in Rory, Jason, Jordan...
A: It is difficult. There are a lot of very hungry, very talented young players coming up.
The rankings right now are dominated by some really young guys. It's not easy to get yourself back, but hopefully I can get there. I really, truly believe that I'm still good enough to be one of the best players in the world and compete like
I did a few years back.
Q: What was it like to be world No.1?
A I enjoyed it. Who wouldn't want to be at the top? I was there for 56 weeks, practically a year-and-a-half on and off, and you feel like things can't ever go wrong. You feel that confident on the course. It was a pretty good time.
Q: It's a shame you didn't make the Ryder Cup team because I gather you know Hazeltine National pretty well?
A: Yeah, I have tasted success there by winning the NCAA individual so I really wanted to be on that team, especially having played in four winning Ryder Cup teams!
Q: Tell us about your off-course interests.
A: I have had my own wine label since 2007. I have a red Meritage and a white Chardonnay and Viognier under the label Luke Donald Collection. It's a fun hobby and I like to collect wine too, especially Bordeauxs. My art is rather on the back burner now, instead my time spent is with my kids on my off time. I'm also getting very interested in golf course design and renovations which leads me back to my art interest.