Jamie Donaldson marches on Augusta next week at the head of a private army, including father, brother, mates from Macclesfield and anybody else who knows him. Well, not quite, but the troupe of 20 arguably tops the number of vassals in Tiger’s retinue. Donaldson is 37 and thought the Masters was something appropriated only via television on a Sunday night with a beer in hand.
He lost his card in 2006 after discovering a bad back was in fact a broken vertebra, finally tasted victory at the 255th attempt at last year’s Irish Open, and smacked Woods and Rory McIlroy clean out of Abu Dhabi with a second victory at the start of this year. Before that brother Alex, handicap 8, was the top Donaldson, junior match play champion at their club, a feat beyond Jamie, so why not make a week of it on the occasion of his Masters debut?
Actually, that would be to caricature his approach. There will be some ceremonial elements at play, with Alex on his bag in the par-three tournament on Wednesday, and a group of close friends sharing a house, but in all other respects Donaldson is travelling up from the Valero Texas Open to test his mettle and his improving game against the best.
“My career has been getting better and better. This is another stepping stone, another landmark. I’m looking to go there to perform,” Donaldson said. “The win at the start of the year was fantastic on a difficult course. I’m looking for bigger and better things after that week. I played exceptionally well on a course that I found very difficult. To win when you find the course tough takes you on to better things. I know I can perform on tough tracks. It was great that both Rory and Tiger played in that event. You want to win in the toughest fields in this game. That is what I’ll be doing all year. It makes you believe you can do it against the best and makes you want to do it again.”
Donaldson has Woods to thank for most of what he knows of Augusta, courtesy of the eponymous PlayStation game he played with his son when the snow kept him indoors in Macclesfield. “We had 12 foot drifts up here. The game offered some insight into the undulation on the fairways and greens. It probably helped having never been there. I arrive on Sunday night and practise Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. I won’t be doing anything different from any other event. It’s a massive golf tournament with incredible history but I won’t be preparing any differently than I would for a standard event. I have my rules on prep and how I go about things and I’ll be true to them.”
This is a reference to the days when stepping off kerbs was a consideration, such was the pain tearing holes in his psyche as well as his back. The condition was diagnosed in 2004 – the result of too much practice. A disciplined exercise regime protects against a recurrence. “It was a stress fracture in the vertebra that opened and closed. I used to practise until the cows came home and over the years it took its toll. With rest and rehab I’m in a different position. I don’t practise as much these days, but get more out of it. It’s knowing what to do through experience.”
At the Masters he reaches beyond what is known. He would love to tee off with Woods, something else he has never done. Whoever he draws, he feels ready. “The field is full of class golfers. I showed at the US PGA last year [where he tied for seventh] I was able to compete. I know what I have to do.”
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