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Team RBS' Donald: A breakthrough season

Luke Donald is reveling in his recent victories after his recent selection as a Captain's pick for Team Europe at the 35th Ryder Cup Matches.

September 14, 2004

Team RBS Dateline

Luke Donald is reveling in his recent victory at the Omega European Masters, which came on the heels of his Scandinavian Masters win in August and his recent selection as a Captain's pick for Team Europe at the 35th Ryder Cup Matches at Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Township, Mich. Donald, who turned professional in 2001, is enjoying a career year on the PGA Tour, and is also completing his second season as a member of Team RBS.

Team RBS, which includes Donald, Jack Nicklaus and Charles Howell, is a program developed by the Royal Bank of Scotland Group (RBS) to connect a veteran player with two younger players on the PGA Tour. RBS recognized the value in linking the greatest golfer in history with two young golfers with unlimited potential. We caught up with Donald recently and asked him about his impressive season.

What was your reaction when you learned European Ryder Cup captain Bernhard Langer had selected you to play on the team?

A little bit of relief, a lot of excitement. Those are the two words I'd use to describe it. There were quite a few nervous weeks leading up to it. This is something I've thought about for years. You dream of it as a kid, now it's reality. So it's just starting to sink in.

You weren't able to participate in the news conference when Langer announced his two captain's picks Aug. 29 in Germany. Where were you?

I was on a private plane en route to Switzerland (to play in the Omega European Masters). We had to take off at 6 p.m., and the team wasn't announced until 6:30. So I didn't find out I had made it until I saw a text message from Guy Kinnings (IMG golf division senior vice president) when we landed. I had seen Bernhard a couple of hours before the selection, but he wasn't giving anything away. He said there had been (news) leaks in the past, and he didn't want that to happen. He did call me in Switzerland to say 'Congratulations' and 'Well done.'

Were there any Ryder Cup teammates on the plane?

Sergio Garcia. We've become pretty good friends the last couple of years. He was pretty happy for me.

What do you bring to the European team?

I'm playing extremely well right now. I feel very much in control of my game. I'm a straight hitter, so in foursomes I will always be in play. I think my game is suited to this kind of layout (Oakland Hills), with long rough and tight fairways. Being on the PGA Tour, I've played with a lot of the U.S. players, so I'm not intimidated by them. I think it will be a lot like playing a Tour event, but with a little more pressure. A lot more pressure probably.

What are your thoughts on potential partnerships at Oakland Hills?

Obviously Paul Casey springs to mind. We played together in the Walker Cup in 1999 and we worked quite well. We won our matches reasonably easily. I have become good friends with Sergio Garcia and that could be another partnership. But there are a lot of guys I could play with. I think I have a pretty steady game and I could play with anyone.

You're 26 years old. What are your earliest Ryder Cup memories?

The first Ryder Cup I remember was 1987, at Muirfield Village, the first time the Europeans won on U.S. soil. I remember watching the Americans play the 18th so poorly. Ben Crenshaw was putting with his 3-iron because he'd broken his putter in anger. I remember Jose Maria Olazabal dancing on the green and the players spraying champagne on each other.

Your fellow Team RBS member, Jack Nicklaus, played six times in the Ryder Cup with a pretty formidable record (17-8-3). Is that inspiring to a young player such as yourself?

Absolutely, but then all Jack's records are pretty unbelievable. He had such huge self-belief and that's what you need in match play. I mean, he is honest enough to say he never had the best short game because his iron play was so good. But he knew that even if he chipped it to 10 feet that he would hole it. That's hard to beat in match play.

Does he offer you much advice?

Jack's the sort of player who will give you as much advice as you want if you ask for it . A lot of the young guys know what they are doing and like to do things their own way, but I've played a few practice rounds with him, and when I have asked him he has been only to happy to help.

Given this is your second season being affiliated with RBS and being a member of Team RBS, how do you think it's been going for you?

Yeah, so far it's been great. I mean having a relationship with RBS, and having connections back to the UK, which is where I'm originally from, is great. And to have people like Charles and especially Jack Nicklaus on the team it's been a perfect opportunity for me. RBS is very, very much involved in golf; very much involved in the British Open and some of the other majors too, it's been great being affiliated with them.

Jack was involved in perhaps the greatest sporting gesture golf ever has witnessed when he graciously conceded a putt to Tony Jacklin at Royal Birkdale in England in 1969. Is that what the Ryder Cup is all about?

Absolutely. The match should be competitive but there should be no malice or anything like that. The Ryder Cup is all about the spirit of the game. Golf is that biggest part of the competition, not the winning or losing. I think you will see that at Oakland Hills because the teams have so much respect for one another. It will be tough, but it will be fair.

You missed the cut at the Open Championship and then came right back and won the Scandinavian Masters. What was the difference there?

I don't know, I think, you know I didn't play that badly at the Open Championship, it's just a couple of small mistakes on the first day. I had two double bogeys and shot 4-over on the first day. I played quite well on the second day and three-putted my last hole and missed the cut by one. So, probably the scores didn't reflect the way I played. Then I had a solid week in Ireland, I finished 22nd there in the Nissan Irish Open. Then went to Sweden and played extremely well. The course, it seems to suit my game, it's a course you don't have to overpower, again you just have to place yourself really well. And, I finished third at the Scandinavian Masters last year so it's a place I feel comfortable playing and then I went on to win this year -- just played very solidly.

Are you playing about as well now as you've played all year?

I believe so; I've really been swinging the club very well. You know, coupled with some good putting at times, it's really helped me get those top 10's and the wins, of course. This is probably the best I've been swinging the club in a long time.

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