No. 1 Donald gets it done without the increased power of today's game

by | Senior Golf Columnist

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Of course, there have been other feisty Brits who ruled both the U.K. and the Colonies in such dominant fashion.

For those with longer memories, King George III comes to mind. He reigned over the minions with an iron hand, whereas world No. 1 Luke Donald does it with an iron in hand.

At times, the 2011 PGA Tour season surely felt like a monarchy.

Luke Donald competed in 19 events this year, leading the tour with 14 finishes in the top 10. (Getty Images)  
Luke Donald competed in 19 events this year, leading the tour with 14 finishes in the top 10. (Getty Images)  
To the surprise of darned few, Donald on Tuesday was formally named the winner of the Jack Nicklaus Award as the U.S. tour's best player, becoming the first Englishman to claim the circuit's biggest honor as determined by a vote of his peers.

After winning the tour's season finale in stunning fashion, the American-centric electorate handed him the top-player crown, a fitting bit of democracy. All he did was lead the tour in earnings, scoring average and top-10 finishes -- despite making fewer starts, 19, than any player in the top 10 on the money list.

Old George III was regarded by historians as the king who lost America. Finally, Duke Donald, 34, won it back. His season was so solid in the States, it felt like imperialism revisited.

"In his career, he's gone from good to better to the best," six-time major winner Nick Faldo said Tuesday.

No European player had ever claimed the Arnold Palmer Award as the top wage-earner. Forget Arnie -- Luke's the new king and he fits the bill with his quiet manner. No doubt, the understated Donald has something of a regal air, or at least, a slightly aristocratic one. Maybe it's the accent or conservative dress in an age of look-at-me tour players. At any rate, the 34-year-old was unquestionably the most impressive player in the game in 2011 -- across all boundaries and borders.

Truly the best part for we lowly chops in the proletariat is that Donald does it with precious little Howitzer power in a game that skews increasingly toward the ball-vaporizing players. At 5-feet-9 and 160 pounds, he's positively Hoganesque in stature and would not draw a second glance in a shopping mall. He wins with technique, strategy, precision and aplomb.

That's the Grand Slam of a different era, people.

"What I like about his game is that it's old school," American Ryder Cupper Hunter Mahan said Tuesday. "Fairways, greens and an incredible short game. He makes everything inside 10 feet. Mentally, he is tough as hell.

"He made a commitment to become the best player he could be. He's a golfer and he's not trying to be anything else."

After 10 years on tour, Donald has maximized his strengths, minimized his weaknesses, and continues to climb up the pantheon, taking over the No. 1 spot this year after supplanting then-numero uno Lee Westwood at the European PGA Tour's flagship event at Wentworth. All while many blow it 30 yards past him off the tee.

"I have done a lot of things that people probably didn't give me much of a chance of doing," Donald said from Australia Tuesday. "Consistency goes a long way."

All the way to No. 1, actually. So, tenacity still counts, which is a relief in this era. Donald is more plodder and plinker than powerhouse -- he finished the U.S. season ranked T-147 out of 186 players in driving distance, which is reason enough to salute his accomplishments. Think about it this way: His margin for error on longer courses is far smaller than many top players, who are hitting approach shots from 2-3 clubs closer to the green.

Ah, but once he gets close, Donald gets even. He uses his wedge like an Exacto knife, ranking No. 1 on tour from 100-125 yards and sixth from 75-100 yards. Around the greens, it was occasionally frightening to behold, like when he reeled off six straight birdies on the back nine of his final PGA Tour round to secure the 2011 money title. In fact, Donald has ranked first in the PGA Tour's new putting statistic for three seasons in succession, which is why he's especially tough to beat in match play.

Nobody, nowhere, is better around the greens than Donald, which allows him to let his hair down a bit elsewhere.

"When you putt that well, he knows he can afford to be a bit more aggressive," Faldo said, admiringly. "He knows that if he misses greens, he can get it close and make the putt."

In a time when more top guns than ever are taking up golfing dual citizenship on both major tours, it's lamentable that the PGA Tour's synopsis of his season, sent to players on the ballot with four other top-player nominees, seemed so narrow-minded. It read thusly:

Entered 19 events during the 2011 season, featuring victories at the Accenture Match Play Championship and Childrens Miracle Network Hospitals Classic. Led the tour with 14 top-10 finishes, including a playoff loss at The Heritage. Ranked third on the final FedEx Cup points list and first on the official money list with $6,683,214, earning the Arnold Palmer Award. Earned Byron Nelson Award and Vardon Trophy for lowest adjusted scoring average.

That's only the half of it.

This is an award for the best PGA Tour member, no? Then let's count what he accomplished across the Pond, too. Donald actually won four times worldwide this year and last weekend became the first double member to top both money lists, and cranked out more top-10s than any English lad not named John, Paul, George or Ringo. In events awarding world-ranking points, he mustered 20 top-10 finishes in 26 starts.

Saving the best for last, Donald recorded perhaps his defining victory on the PGA Tour in the finale at Disney World, a tournament he entered with the explicit goal of winning in order to claim the money title and jointly demonstrate to his Yankee brethren how important the Nicklaus Trophy was to him personally.

Consider 'em sufficiently swayed.

"At this point, he does it all," Faldo said. "He's a very professional golfer, put it that way."


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