Donald hones his killer instinct at the right time
Briton well placed to win Masters after World Match Play victory
Tuesday 05 April 2011
Luke Donald, the assassin. It's an image which is hard to accept, no matter how coolly the Englishman pulls the trigger on the fairways nowadays.
After all, the 33-year-old is a national stereotype; America's idea of exactly how an Englishman should be. Quiet, modest, dignified... placid, even. He is definitely not Ian Poulter. Indeed, imagining Donald tweeting the same declaration as his countryman yesterday, is to imagine Peter Bowles with a nose-stud.
"I'm looking for the Ryder Cup Poulter to come out this week and show his face," wrote Poulter. "He never compromised. He wants it. Time to deliver."
Each to their own. With four English representatives in the world's top 16 a cross-section of characters is inevitable. Donald prefers a less bullish approach, slipping on to this property calmly yesterday, not with any grand statements of intent but instead with a smile and a nod. But do not doubt his conviction.
Donald is here to win and many wise judges believe he has the most obvious chance of all the Europeans who have splattered the summit of world golf in blue and gold. His victory at the World Match Play in Tucson in February screamed of a competitor nearing the peak of his form.
Five weeks on, has he reached it? Well, last week he shot a 62 around The Bear's Club, a course record on the testing Chicago track, which had been prepared to ape Augusta's lightning greens. A three-week break has evidently left him feeling fresh and focused. If his performance coach has anything to do with it, his concentration will hit new levels. And then help him hit his life target.
Dave Alred is better known as the long-time guru to Jonny Wilkinson. He strives to give his clients a "mindset for performance". He does this by employing metaphors. It is here where Donald becomes Carlos the Jackal. "With Luke I suppose an 'assassin' is the simplest, most tangible metaphor," says Alred. "Where you're ready, it's one shot, one opportunity and you need to hit right between the eyes because you don't get a second chance. It's about making sure all the technical work done with Pat Goss reproduces itself when he is under the cosh and he is becoming increasingly more successful in doing that."
Alred's alliance with Donald has been extensively covered and it surely isn't a coincidence that since the pair began working, 15 months ago, Donald has risen from world No 30 into the top five.
But there's plainly more in it than just Alred. In the midst of making the irresistible Wilkinson connection and of linking, say, a 10-footer for a green jacket with a drop goal for a World Cup, there is a danger of overlooking the influence of Goss, the coach with whom Donald has been working since he enrolled in his Chicago college in 1997. Goss is the head coach at Northwestern State University and the young scholarship student instantly knew he had found his man. "I felt my swing improved immediately," said Donald. "And he became a friend."
The cynics would say friendship can be a negative factor in the merciless environs of the professional range and would probably also question why Donald is still working with his college coach. It is not the done thing in the paid ranks. The first whiff of success and the original mentor is usually ditched for the celebrated mentor. A Butch Harmon, a Sean Foley, or the like. Even Goss sees the abnormality of their relationship.
"I don't know if Luke gets any flak – what are you doing working with your old college coach?" so he told the Vancouver Sun. "I'm sure there's some of that perception out there. One of my favourite jokes is, 'If he let go of his brother [Christian] as his caddie, where does that put the coach?' One thing I'll say about Luke is, I don't think he likes change."
The pupil sees it slightly differently. "I don't like to change things that are working," said Donald, who brought Goss on his reconnaissance mission here last week. "You know he's a good teacher when you've been struggling for a few weeks and then he gives you a tip, something very small. Suddenly, you're getting it."
Yet the ascent has been gradual. Donald credits Goss with making his short game one of the sharpest in golf. In fact, in Goss's eyes it is the sharpest. "We can make a good case that Luke's the best short-game player in the world," Goss said. "If not, he's close. Bunker play, putting, getting up and down... within 30 yards of the green, he is the best."
Donald will probably need to be if he is to break the barren British run at Augusta, which now extends to 15 years. His lack of length is plainly a huge disadvantage around this 7,435-yard layout. But he has been given extra hope – if he needed any – by the likelihood of fast, firm conditions as well as by the fact that his career win in Tucson came on a 7,600-yard monster, which is the longest on the PGA Tour.
"The way I see it is I can make birdies here and compete," said Donald, who finished third on his Masters debut in 2005. "I think five or 10 years ago it was all about the short game at Augusta but now there's definitely more weight on the long game.
"Obviously it helps to hit it far here now. But I still think it's very, very tricky around the greens and if you can putt and chip well, you're going to be there near the end. It's all about the execution." Said like a true assassin.
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