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Donald Looks to Pick up Where He Left Off
Luke Donald had a season for the ages last year. Thanks to four victories worldwide, the 34-year-old Englishman became the only golfer in history to win the money titles on both the PGA and European tours.
Luke Donald Tackles
World's Biggest 'Bunker' in Abu Dhabi's Liwa Desert (Getty Images)
The former All-America at Northwestern - where he won the NCAA Men's Golf Championship in 1999 by beating the previous scoring record set by Tiger Woods - earned $6,683,214 in the U.S. and another $7.11 million in Europe.
Donald began his 2011 American campaign with a 3 and 2 win over Martin Kaymer in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship and ended it with an 8-under 64 in the Children's Miracle Network Classic to capture the PGA Tour money title. He then closed with a pair of 6-under 66s to finish third in the Dubai World Championship and sew up the European Tour's Race to Dubai title.
Donald also won the Vardon Trophy for the lowest adjusted scoring average of 68.86 and was named PGA Player of the Year. He had top-10 finishes in 14 of the 19 PGA tournaments he entered, and in 25 official events in the U.S. and Europe, he racked up a remarkable 19 top-10 finishes en route to becoming the unquestioned No. 1-ranked player in the world.
Donald is making his season debut in this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, a European Tour event that starts Thursday at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. For the first round he'll be in the marquee pairing with Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, who are also making their first starts of the year.
Despite his nonpareil 2012 season, Donald believes there's much more for him to accomplish, namely, a major title. "Certainly I do believe the key to winning, for me to try and contend and win majors, is to continually improve my driving," he said Wednesday.
"I think majors become trickier around the greens, and they are firmer, smaller greens usually. It's more prevalent to hit it in the fairways at majors. It's something Jack Nicklaus told me last year - he thinks he was successful because he drove it very well. I think that's the area I would love to continue to improve. I certainly made some pretty good improvements last year, but I still have a long way to go."
Donald is looking forward to playing head to head with Woods, a 14-time major winner, and McIlroy, the 2011 U.S. Open champion. "It's a great draw," Donald said. "I'm always excited to be in those kinds of marquee groups, and it will be good to play with Tiger again.
"Obviously it's been a while, and got to play with Rory a few weeks ago in Dubai and looking forward to that pairing. It's a fantastic group."
Donald delayed the start of the new season because of the birth of his second child. "Certainly there are always challenges with new babies but ours has been very good in terms of sleeping very well," he said. "It has not really been a distraction in terms of that. It's been another blessing really.
"I had four and a half, five weeks off, since my last event, and put the clubs away for three weeks - didn't touch them and the last couple of weeks, just been working on very similar stuff I worked on last year, really trying to get my swing a little bit more solid, especially with the longer clubs and create a bit more consistency with that.
"The overall goal for me is to continue to improve and get better. The goal every year is to try to win the biggest events, and those are the majors. Obviously having a year like I did last year, I did everything but win a major in a way.
"That would be at the top of my goals, to try and win a major. But obviously you have to put yourself into contention first." (See below for Donald's full Wednesday interview.)
Getting into contention wasn't a problem in 2011 for the unerringly consistent Donald. But as a new year dawns he must start all over again.
The Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship will be broadcast live Thursday through Sunday in the U.S. on Golf Channel, starting at 6:00 a.m. (ET).
For all the first-round pairings, visit http://www.europeantour.com/europeantour/season=2012/tournamentid=2012004/teetimes/index.html. For live scoring, visit http://www.europeantour.com/europeantour/season=2012/tournamentid=2012004/leaderboard/index.html.
Here's the full transcript of Donald's interview on the eve of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.
MODERATOR: Luke, thanks, as always for coming in and joining us. Welcome to Abu Dhabi, just looking at the record books, 2008 was the last time you were here. You played this morning; did you remember much about the golf course or has it changed a bit in your mind.
LUKE DONALD: Yeah, us golfers, we kind of remember courses pretty easily. You know, a few little changes here and there. I actually had my yardage book from 2008 and there's a few added bunkers and added length, but mostly the course is very similar. I don't remember too much how I played that year, but certainly remember the course.
MODERATOR: And how was the form today, getting back into it?
LUKE DONALD: Yeah, my form on Wednesdays is never great. You know, Wednesdays are Wednesdays, but I've been working pretty hard the last ten days and feel pretty good with where my swing is.
MODERATOR: Interesting draw coming up tomorrow with Tiger.
LUKE DONALD: Yeah, great draw. Always excited to be in those kind of marquee players, and will be good to play with Tiger again. Obviously it's been a while, and got to play with Rory a few weeks ago in Dubai and looking forward to that pairing. Fantastic group.
Q. Can you remember the last time when you played with Tiger?
LUKE DONALD: Not off the top of my head. Probably some time 2009. I think it's been a while, though.
Q. And just when you played with him in the last round of the US PGA at Medinah, can you just say how different a golfer you are now to what you were then?
LUKE DONALD: Yeah, hugely. I think 2006 - I had come off a pretty good year that year, but obviously habit of a lean spell for a few years. 2008, 2007, even 2009 wasn't that great. But I think every year you learn more about yourself as a golfer. You learn a little bit more about your swing. Obviously last year was a hugely important year for me in terms of dealing with pressure and being able to come out on top when it mattered. Yeah, I feel like certainly a different player since then; a lot more experience.
Q. During the break, can you just tell us what you - were you actually working at something, or were you just relaxing? And did the new arrival make it difficult for you?
LUKE DONALD: Well, certainly there's always challenges with new babies but ours has been very good in terms of sleeping very well. It has not been really a distraction in terms of that. It's been another blessing really. I had, what, four and a half, five weeks off, since my last event, and put the clubs away for three weeks. Didn't touch them and the last couple of weeks, just been working on very similar stuff worked on last year, really trying to get my swing a little bit more solid, especially with the longer clubs and create a bit more consistency with that.
Q. Dave is down here, but my understanding is he's spending quite a lot of time with another player. Is he doing anything with you this week?
LUKE DONALD: No, I believe he's on a trial week with Pádraig. I obviously talked to Dave about this at the end of last year, and I don't have an exclusive deal with him and happy with him to work with other players. You know, he said whenever I want to work with him, he'll work with me and no other player, but this week it wasn't in my plan to work with him, and so he's working with Pádraig.
Q. When do you expect to work with him for the first time this year?
LUKE DONALD: He's going to be over in Florida next week. We're going to start doing some work together. Kind of a practice week before I get started on the U.S. Tour.
Q. We have just seen the photos of what you did yesterday in the desert with Martin, and we asked him earlier; wonder your thoughts on playing out of the world's biggest bunker yesterday?
LUKE DONALD: Certainly was big. Never get out of that one. That was pretty amazing to see. It was my first time really to the actual desert. It was an amazing kind of landscape. Obviously I've seen a couple of pictures in the last couple of hours, and they turned out amazingly. So you know, it was a fun thing to do, and something I'll remember. It will be a great shot to have up on the wall, because it's pretty spectacular, that back drop.
Q. Is there any sense of trepidation setting out this year after all you achieved last year?
LUKE DONALD: Not really. I'm really trying to feed off all the good stuff more than think about going backwards. I think my job is to keep controlling what I can control and try to do similar things I did last year in terms of just trying to improve at the margin of everything that I do. Kind of let everything else fall into place. Yeah, obviously there's always expectation, but I think as I said last year was great for me in terms of confidence and knowing that when I needed to play well, I did.
Q. You had the best year of your life and most other people's lives last year, and you changed clubs; what was wrong last year?
LUKE DONALD: Nothing wrong. I think throughout my career, I've always changed clubs. When I've tried something that I think is better, then I've changed. This is great week to at least try some new stuff under pressure. But I did some good testing the last ten days, and really felt like they were very solid. I wasn't - they almost felt a little bit more of an improvement on my clubs. Sometimes it's good to put in new equipment now and again. It gives you a little bit of a spark. You feel good about it just because it's new. We'll see how it plays out, but certainly I'm excited about some of the changes.
Q. Rory was saying that when he first saw and played with Tiger, he was a bit awestruck and a bit nervous, but he's got over that as he's got to know him and with experience. Has the same sort of process happened in your case?
LUKE DONALD: I think certainly. Obviously Tiger, it's not just playing with Tiger. It's the fact that he brings a bigger crowd. There's a little bit more of an atmosphere. You're going to feel a little bit differently. Certainly my experiences over the last few years - and I have played with him quite a few times in the past; that feeling of feeling intimidated certainly dissipates, yes. I'm looking forward to seeing his game again tomorrow and getting out there.
Q. Have you grown to enjoy pressure?
LUKE DONALD: Well, certainly the goal is always to be in contention, and in those situations, yeah, you're under pressure. I'm always - if I'm playing a tournament and not under pressure, it means I'm not near the lead. So yeah, getting into contention and feeling that pressure is exciting. That's I think what we practice for. And being able to kind of perform under the pressure is why I work hard and obviously the hard work paid off pretty well last year.
Q. Luke, you always seem to be so calm under pressure, or any other situation on the golf course; is there something in the game that really ruffles you at times?
LUKE DONALD: Bad golf. (Laughing). I would say I'm somewhat of a perfectionist. I like to work hard and when things don't work, it's annoying. Yeah, I certainly try to learn from situations, whether it's good or bad; whether I play this good this week or not so good, I try and take something out of it. You know, always try to move forward.
Q. Having been in Abu Dhabi before, do you feel that the city has changed, and how? And apart from golf, what other attractions are you planning to enjoy yourself in Abu Dhabi?
LUKE DONALD: I haven't seen too much of the city, but certainly the city landscape has changed quite a bit. There are some new buildings even where I'm staying at the Emirates Palace; I'm pretty sure those buildings were not across the street last time I was here. Yeah, it's a growing country. Whether I'll do anything outside of going to the hotel or the golf is unlikely. But there's a possibility I might go to the track; they were going to try to race a car around the track at one point, but I'm not sure if that's going to happen.
Q. You told us last year that your goals last year were to contend in all four majors. Just wondered what have you set yourself a goal this year of?
LUKE DONALD: Again, the overall goal for me is to continue to improve and get better. Obviously the goal every year, the goal is to try to win the biggest events, and those are the majors. Obviously having a year like I did last year, I did everything but win a major in a way. Obviously that would be the top of my goals, to try and win a major. But obviously you have to put yourself into contention first.
Q. You showed some agitation on Twitter about the issue of slow play. I just wondered how urgently you felt the tours need to deal with that issue and how serious you thought it was.
LUKE DONALD: Well, it's an issue that's been around for years and years. I think it's a hard one to deal with. Like I said on Twitter, I think the responsibility has to come with the player just being aware of when it's his turn to play and be ready. Some players aren't and some are. It's an ongoing problem, but hopefully as someone - as the No. 1 ranked player in the world, maybe I have a little bit more of a voice now and people will take notice. If it makes a little bit of difference, hopefully that was a good message to get across.
Q. Is it something that's got worse?
LUKE DONALD: Since I've been on Tour, it's been pretty similar to be honest. There has not been a lot of change either way.
Q. Of all of the things you're trying to get better at, is there one thing that stands out?
LUKE DONALD: Certainly I do believe the key to winning, for me to try and contend and win Majors, is to continually improve my driving. I think Majors becomes trickier around the greens, and they are firmer, smaller greens usually. It's more prevalent to hit it in fairways at Majors. It's something Jack Nicklaus told me last year. He thinks he was successful because he drove it very well. I think that's the area I would love to continue to improve. I certainly made some pretty good improvements last year, but I still have a long way to go.
MODERATOR: Luke, thank you, as always, for coming in, and good luck this week.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.