Westwood, Donald need to learn
IS $11.5m any sort of consolation? Luke Donald suspects it might be. Indeed, when it is time for the Englishman to look back on a golfing year which may just have seen him not only crowned world No 1 but also the No 1 on both the European and US Tours this could be the ultimate “where did it all go wrong?” moment.
Not that Donald would find that question ludicrous. He began 2011 with one goal - to contend in all four majors. By his own strict standards, he failed. “It’s the one disappointment of the season,” said the 33-year-old as the major campaign finished with a tie for ninth in the US PGA on Sunday. “But the year is not over. There are other goals.”
Donald is understandably excited about his pursuit of a money-list double. For a second, forget the mountain of greenback (a $10m bonus for topping the FedEx Standings, $1.5m to top the Race To Dubai Order of Merit) and consider the history. “No one has ever done it,” said Donald. “I know Tiger probably earned enough money through the years, but he was never a European Tour member.”
The month-long FedEx play-offs start in New Jersey next week and, currently in third place, Donald is the bookmakers’ favourite to go one better than last year. And the European equivalent, which finishes in Dubai in December? As Rory McIlroy, resigned in second, puts it: “Luke’s already wrapped that up.”
“It would be an unbelievable achievement,” added Donald. Unbelievable, maybe. Career-defining, it shouldn’t be. If there’s one stat which illuminates the continuing shortcomings of Donald and Lee Westwood in the four events of immortal import, it is that seven majors in a row have been taken by first-time winners. And none happened to be either the world Nos 1 or 2. That’s unprecedented and unfathomable.
Keegan Bradley highlights the frustration better than anyone. Here is a 25-year-old rookie, who just two years ago was competing on something called the Hooters Tour and who became just the second player in 98 years to win the very first major in which he competed. Even allowing for the enduring fickleness of golf, is there anything Donald and Westwood can learn from this personable young man from the unfashionable golf environs of Vermont, New England? For Westwood it appears so.
The 38-year-old is the best current player never to have won a major, no doubt. Indeed, in terms of tee-to-green he is the best player never to have won a major since Colin Montgomerie. But there is a fatal flaw in the putting stroke, a truth cemented by this latest brush with destiny in Atlanta. Westwood should be buoyed by his obvious imperfection not crushed by it. As soon as he finds the answer, he wins. Simple as.
And in the performance of Bradley he can take so much. First off, by comparing notes with Dr Bob Rotella, the mind guru who works with both Westwood and Bradley. Rotella calls Bradley’s Aunty Pat - the winner of seven majors - “mentally the toughest player I ever worked with”. Her nephew may just emerge over the forthcoming years as the second toughest. Bradley accepted the treble bogey on the 15th - which left him five behind the hapless Jason Dufner - with the philosophy raging through all of Rotella’s work. “The major thing for me this week was to under-react to everything that happened to me, whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing,” he said. “And the key is whenever I get in that mood, my putting is above and beyond what I normally putt like.”
Westwood, as Rotella says, “gets in the way of his putting”. His mood at the Atlanta Athletic Club screamed as much. “The putts haven’t dropped for me all year, so I don’t see why they will tomorrow,” he said, in the depths of Saturday’s morass of missed opportunity. He knows he needs to work on that attitude, because as his manager, Chubby Chandler, recognises, “you can’t keep doing the same things over and over and expect different results”.
Westwood is taking the right course of action by abandoning his long-held aversion to sports psychologists. He only did so a fortnight ago and this total mindshift will take time. The next prejudice he may wish to drop as a commendable traditionalist is to the long-putter. So much for the howls from the purists, Bradley declared himself “very proud to be the first belly putter to win a major”, adding: “Personally I think it’s an easier way to putt. Especially when there’s some nerves.”
There were nerves on Sunday, but the manner in which he and his wand dealt with them identify him as something other than a one-hit wonder. Of course, the same is said when anybody wins a major, but there does seem something special about Bradley. America thinks so. But then they would, considering he was the hero who ended their record drought of six majors.
Yet Westwood and Donald have nothing to fear from Bradley. Perhaps they have something to learn, as they carry on the search for that little something to eradicate their major deficiency.