Golf

Donald in it for more than money

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Robert Lusetich

After more than 20 years of covering everything from election campaigns to the Olympic Games, Robert Lusetich turned his focus to writing about his first love: golf. He is author of Unplayable: An Inside Account of Tiger's Most Tumultuous Season. Follow him on Twitter.

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Hunter Mahan was assessing the parity within golf in the post-Tiger era when the conversation turned to Luke Donald.

“Luke Donald’s only won three times over here (in the US), three times over there (in Europe),” he said in an interview conducted two weeks ago.

On top of the world

There has been a shift in the World Golf Ranking. See how Luke Donald climbed to No. 1.

“That’s shocking to me. Shocking.”

Mahan wasn’t trying to be critical, but merely acknowledge how difficult it is to win golf tournaments, even for a player of Donald’s stature.

Well, Donald’s now won four times “over there” with Sunday’s playoff win over Lee Westwood at the European Tour’s flagship BMW PGA Championship.

It was a momentous victory in many ways, but primarily because it’s taken the 33-year-old Englishman to No. 1 in the world rankings.

Even more than the recent brief stays at the top by Martin Kaymer — who has suffered as he has curiously turned from his natural fade shot to a draw — and Westwood — whose resume doesn’t include a major — Donald’s ascension is sure to set tongues wagging about the true value of the rankings.

Not only has Donald not won a major, but he’s won only three stroke-play events in the past five years.

And two of those — the 2006 Honda Classic and last year’s Madrid Masters — were against weak fields.

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For Woods at his peak, such a haul would’ve represented a relatively ho-hum month.

Now, as the sport’s fallen champion tries to rediscover his game, it’s the resume of the world No. 1.

“It's interesting how times have changed, how you can get to be No. 1 without winning a major,” Nick Faldo said after Westwood reached the top last fall.

“I never understood the points scoring system, even in my day. I wanted to be number one. It is a nice one to win. But majors are the one, because you have to go and win them and finish them off.”

Faldo has a point, but is it any fairer to add more weight to major winners in calculating the rankings?

Does Louis Oosthuizen really deserve to be ranked higher than Donald merely because he lapped the field at last year’s British Open at St Andrews?

It was a performance for the ages but the South African’s done precious little since.

Donald, meanwhile, has been absurdly consistent. As well as winning the Accenture Match Play title in Arizona, he’s finished in the top 10 in 14 of his past 15 events.

He might not have many trophies to display, but he does cash some fat checks.

And maybe that’s the real complaint against Donald: That his success is too hollow.

A few years ago, a friend and former colleague, Barker Davis, diagnosed a condition in golf called “Luke Donald Disease.”

It’s a disorder generally characterized by backdooring top-10s — basically by going out early Sunday morning and playing well to rocket up the leader board without ever being in contention — while generally underachieving.

In other words, being in it for the dough.

On that score, my old friend may have misdiagnosed Donald.

I’m not sure Donald is happier with closing in on $40 million in career earnings than he is disappointed by the lack of silverware on his mantle.

“Try not to pay too much attention,” Donald said earlier this year of the criticisms of his career.

“I think, unfairly at times, I’ve kind of been depicted as someone that is very happy contending, picking up checks, but doesn’t care about winning.”

Certainly, his elevated play of the past 12 months — inspired by a tough physical training regimen as well as the arrival of a rugby coach to sharpen Donald’s mental game — has shown that he’s not happy resting on bloated bank accounts.

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He’s certainly not there yet, as he showed in stumbling in the playoff against Brandt Snedeker at Hilton Head in April, but the signs are there that Donald’s finding a way to translate his impressive match-play persona into stroke-play events.

(As well as blitzing the field in Tucson this year, he was 7-1 in two Walker Cup appearances as an amateur and has an 8-2-1 record in his three Ryder Cups).

“Stroke play, I think is a tougher win in a certain way,” Donald said after Sunday‘s triumph.

“You have to beat a bigger field, a deeper field. Obviously I won in Madrid, but that wasn't a very strong field. Even my win at the Honda was probably an average field. But to come here and win with all of these people playing, the top three in the world, top six out of seven, all of the Ryder Cuppers, all of the four major champions, and to beat them in stroke play feels pretty good.”

Neither was Donald shy about accepting the mantle of world No. 1.

“Obviously if the world No. 1 ranking is based on consistency, yes, I have been the most consistent this year,” he said. “I have been giving myself opportunities every week. I've had a great run, and you know, it pays to be consistent. And it obviously pays in the world rankings.”

Finishing second might buy a lot of art and provide a very comfortable living for him and his young family, but to hear Donald tell it, it’s “no fun.”

“You feel so close,” he said.

“But so far away.”

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