x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

The rise to the summit of Luke Donald

The year has been one of highs and lows, but the Englishman tees off at The Earth course today having unassumingly made his way to the top.

Luke Donald plays a shot from the rough around the 18th green during a practice round prior to the Dubai World Championships on the Earth Course.
Luke Donald plays a shot from the rough around the 18th green during a practice round prior to the Dubai World Championships on the Earth Course.

DUBAI // If Luke Donald is ahead on the leader board when the last putt rolls in at the Earth Course on Sunday, he will have won the Dubai World Championship to end the season top of the PGA and European Tour money lists, as well as the world rankings.

Donald, who turned 34 on Wednesday, will also have seen his bank balance swell by €9 million (Dh44.4m) over the calendar year.

Yet the Englishman knows that golf is just a job, albeit a nice one. Last month his father, Colin, died suddenly just days before his second daughter, Sophia Ann, was born, all the plaudits and fame Donald has received in what has been a dream year became irrelevant.

"I took five weeks off after my dad's passing and daughter's birth," he said. "There was a wide range of emotions, something you can never prepare for, and just very sad.

"I lost a good friend in my dad. He was someone who brought me up in a proper way. He was never really as concerned about my golf as he was with me being a decent person, someone with good morals and values.

"It's been very tough. I'm sure my dad will be there with me on Sunday and it would nice to win this one for him. Golf was never the priority with him as he just brought me up the right way.

"We didn't play together a lot, but he would take me out sometimes at 7am before school to play a few holes. I have fond memories of that. His big line was that he taught me everything I know. He always took credit for my success."

Donald has been at the top of his game over the past 12 to 18 months.

His upbringing is perhaps one reason why he has shunned the spotlight for many years.

And there was a time when he would not have been prepared to be the best player on the planet.

"I was working with Jim Fanning [the coach] in 2006 and he straight up asked me if I wanted to be No 1," Donald said. "At that point, watching what Tiger Woods was going through, I said 'not really'.

"But I'm quite comfortable being No 1 because it's not changed too much. When Lee Westwood became No 1, and his life didn't change, it was then that I thought I wanted it."

Donald had to win the Children's Miracle Network Classic in October to beat Webb Simpson for the PGA order of merit title, which he did with a final day round of 64 that included six successive birdies.

It was a staggering performance and rightly earned him plaudits.

"The fact is, playing against the best player in the world, he's going to do something great like that most of the time, and he did," Simpson said after that event.

Donald is respected in golfing circles and the phrase "Luke Donald Disease" - which was dreamt up because he kept finishing in the top 10 without challenging for a win - is now redundant.

"He has the best short game I have ever seen," Colin Montgomerie said earlier this year. "Is Luke a better player than I was at my peak? Oh, absolutely."

Not a bad compliment coming from a man who won the European Order of Merit a record eight times, including seven in a row in the 1990s.

Speaking to The Independent earlier this year, the great Jack Nicklaus said: "There isn't anybody who spends more time working on his golf game than I've seen in Luke.

"He spends his time chipping and putting, chipping and putting, and I mean he wears out the practice greens. The effort he has put into it has been rewarded."

Donald's low profile is perhaps one reason why he seems to receive less attention from the press and the galleries than other golfers. So does this treatment bother him?

"Yes and no," Donald said. "I think everyone wants to be validated for what they have done and be respected for that. But I do enjoy living a normal life and not being distracted.

"Sometimes I do want more recognition, but in other ways, when I'm outside golf, I can do whatever I need to and not get bothered by people.

"Maybe it's something to do with my personality. I'm not outspoken and don't believe in hyping up the crowd. I just want to go out there and do the best job I can."

ncameron@thenational.ae