Luke Donald, the former world No 1 who played a key role in the victorious 1999 and 2001 Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup teams, seized on a question on whether he would like to be a future Walker Cup captain. “I’d certainly consider it,” came his quietly enthusiastic response.
Even before he heard how amateur aficionados had been revisiting the possibilities of a professional taking on the captaincy, Donald was having thoughts of his own. He gave the impression that if chosen he would want to be like Peter McEvoy, the career amateur who captained him at Nairn, Scotland in 1999 and at Sea Island, Georgia, in 2001.
“Peter was one of my favourite captains, both in a Ryder Cup and Walker Cup context,” Donald said. “He made us feel great about ourselves. So much so that we all had our chests puffed out by the time we got to the first tee.”
Which was just as well. “If Peter hadn’t boosted our confidence as he did, we’d have been twice as nervous as we might have been,” he continued. “Ten thousand spectators were following us round the (Nairn) links each day. It was the biggest crowd I’d ever known.”
Donald, a Rolex Testimonee, was on the line to talk about this week’s Walker Cup which, like the Ryder Cup, is sponsored by the watchmaker. Since he remembers his sense of awe at the first tee at Nairn, he wanted to pass on a bit of advice for the latest crop of GB&I players.
“When you’re away from home and hitting first, you need to get there early and tee your ball up well before the starter calls your name,” he recommended. “If you don’t, there comes a moment when you’re feeling so jittery you can be struggling to push the tee peg in the ground.”
“One way and another, I think I’m a pretty frustrating opponent. I never get too excited when things are going well, and never too down if they’re not. I don’t let things bother me and I don’t give too much away.”
At Nairn, Donald arrived after winning the individual title in the NCAA Championship, one of four victories he notched as a Northwestern University student during the 1999-2000 college season. His stroke average of 70.45 broke Tiger Woods’s collegiate record and it was hardly surprising when he bagged his full house of four points out of four in Scotland. GB&I won the overall match 15-9 and Donald still fondly remembers the photo of the victorious GB&I team: “There was a caddie spraying champagne over us and the happiness on our faces makes me smile to this day.”
Barely was that memory set to one side than he recalled his only loss two years later. It came in the Saturday foursomes against Lucas Glover and Nick Cassini, when he partnered Nick Dougherty, nowadays one of Sky Sports’ leading commentators.
“We still tease each other about it,” Donald said. “I blame Nick for costing me my unbeaten Walker Cup record (7-1) when the truth is that it was all down to how our games were so very different. Nick wasn’t used to having to hit the big distances I was leaving him to the greens, and I wasn’t used to having to play out of the trees.”
In a recent interview with National Club Golfer magazine, Donald, who was a vice captain to Thomas Bjørn at the 2018 Ryder Cup in Paris, said he is “more of a listener than a talker” in a team room context, that his way is to lead by example. There was no better illustration of that than in the famous 2012 Ryder Cup match at Medinah. Donald led the way in the singles with a 2-and-1 win against Bubba Watson. In what was the greatest European Ryder Cup comeback of all time, the next four Europeans followed suit to help turn a four-point overnight deficit into a 14½-13½ victory.
That people rely on Donald to come up with the goods in match play situations – Europe won all four Ryder Cups he played in – is something he explains thus: “One way and another, I think I’m a pretty frustrating opponent. I never get too excited when things are going well, and never too down if they’re not. I don’t let things bother me and I don’t give too much away.”
His extraordinary level of precision mirrors his ability to stay on an even keel no matter what. Indeed, in watching him during his finest years, you could have been forgiven for thinking that he, no less than his watch, was crafted by Rolex.
Asked to cite his favourite run of accuracy, he opts for how he once went 483 holes without a bogey. For the secret behind that statistic, he reveals how coach Pat Goss made him concentrate on lag putting, while both Goss and Dave Alred, his former performance coach, always introduced an element of pressure to his drills. If, say, he was aiming at hitting 100 balls inside a 6-foot target, he had to keep tabs on his daily results. “You noticed an improvement over time,” he said.
What of the future for the man who will also serve as one of Pádraig Harrington’s vice-captains at this year’s Ryder Cup? Having been involved in nothing but Walker and Ryder Cup wins to date, who would bet against his becoming a Walker Cup or Ryder Cup captain?
Top: Luke Donald during foursomes play at the 2001 Walker Cup