Walker Cup: Luke Donald reflects on winning against the odds
Luke Donald is the proverbial lucky charm when it comes to team events. In four Ryder Cups he has been on the winning side each time while his two Walker Cup appearances both ended in 15-9 victories. His personal contribution was an immense seven out of eight points.
Your two appearances coincided with Peter McEvoy’s astute captaincy – what was he like?
He did a brilliant job of getting us in the right frame of mind and making us prepared. He couldn’t control how we played but he certainly put us in a very confident mood.
He painted a picture that we were champions and that we knew how to win – he put together a motivational video made by Saatchi & Saatchi at Nairn in 1999.
He would go through each player individually and go through their records; he would say to me ’you are conquering America’.
He had a funny line to Gary Wolstenholme: ’You are the champion of a billion people.’ Because he had won the Chinese Open.
You don’t think about your achievements each and every day and then you take a step back and you think ’yeah, I have done all that’ and then you think we are capable of winning.
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What was he like out on the course?
He would come up to you and say ’two up? You’re doing great, maybe you could win a few more holes here.’
It was succinct, no BS, you heard what you wanted to hear.
I wouldn’t say I am a born leader but I try and lead by example more than anything Were you always going to partner Paul Casey in Scotland?
I think so. I knew Paul from playing a little bit with England. He was very long and powerful and had good touch around the greens and was a good putter. I was consistent with my irons and we didn’t make a lot of mistakes so we were a hard partnership.
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As a team we all got along really well. That doesn’t always happen in teams, sometimes there is an odd one out but there was a good energy and we had a fun time.
And being successful and winning made it even better.
What are you like in the team room?
I am probably more of a listener, I say stuff when I want to. I wouldn’t say I am a born leader but I try and lead by example more than anything.
How much did you improve as a player at college?
It really helped me, it was great to have organised, structured practice against very good competition. I came close in my first year to winning a few times and couldn’t quite get over the line but I learned how to win and, once I did, the floodgates opened. I then won 13 events over four years.
I gained a lot and got an education at the same time. And I met my coach Pat Goss who has been a huge influence on my game, my attitude and work ethic and he is still my coach.
You won the NCAA Championship in 1999, beating Tiger’s record by a shot, and you enjoyed a stellar amateur career. Did that bring more pressure?
At that age I’m not sure you think about pressure too much and what you might have achieved, you just go out and play. You have a great love for the game and everything is new and fresh. At Nairn we were playing in front of 10,000 people, it was a great atmosphere and was a lot of fun.
Have you been back?
I haven’t. I got close when we played at Castle Stuart but I never made it.
I have a good picture of a bunch of us around the trophy at night and you can see all the spray. It is a pretty cool picture.
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Do you keep in touch with many of the 1999 team?
I obviously see Paul most weeks, am pretty close with Simon Dyson, I know Philip Rowe pretty well, I run into Lorne Kelly now and again and I saw David Patrick last year at Wentworth. We all have our own little stories and memories about the match.
Did you stay amateur so you could play at Sea Island?
Yes, I could have gone pro a few months earlier but decided to hold back as I had such a good time the first time and it is so different to what we usually do.
You have gone on to play on four Ryder Cup teams, how useful is the Walker Cup experience for that arena?
It is obviously a smaller version but at the time it feels on a similar level when you are playing it. The Ryder Cup is massive but it has that same feel. I led off the singles in America in 2001 and I got that position at the Ryder Cup at Medinah.
Is there any scope for extending the Walker Cup to three days?
I hate messing around with tradition. I still think over two days there is enough golf to get the best team. I don’t think I would be in favour of it.
Your matchplay record is up there with anyone – how do you approach it?
There is a different strategy and it is about knowing when to attack and when to play a bit more safe. You are playing a little bit off what your partner is doing which is different than normal. In the end the guy who is successful is the one who plays the course as well and keeps putting on the pressure and limits the mistakes. You have to keep forcing your opponent to try and win holes.
Do you ever lose your rag?
I am pretty even-keeled on the course anyway but I try not to give them, my opponents, any more motivation than they already have.