2019-08-01 05:03:09

The highlight of the Dunhill Links Championship was of course Simon Dyson's finishing 66 to hold off what our friends on American TV would probably call a "stellar chasing pack" and win the tournament. Six-under par around the Old Course in any circumstances is a great effort. Six-under par in the final round of one the biggest events on the European Tour (at least it is in monetary terms) is an absolutely top-notch.

Dyson has long been a nice player but in recent months he has stepped it up a notch or six, winning twice. The difference has been his putting. These days he looks as if he is about to hole everything he stands over. Regular readers will know the Guardian golf blog is proudly unprofessional when it comes to "cheering" for players. We like the good guys, the Nick Doughertys and Graeme McDowells of this world. Dyson is a good guy. Therefore, we were delighted to see him win.

The £480,000 winner's cheque from the Dunhill isn't to be sniffed at but the Englishman will accrue other benefits from the victory which in the long run may be even more valuable. For one thing, he is now inside the world's top 50 and - if he stays there - that means automatic entry into the majors and the world golf championships.

He is also now in first place in the Ryder Cup points list. Obviously, there is a long way to go before the team will be selected next autumn but any more performances like this week's and Dyson will be on the team. Is this a good or a bad thing for Europe? The obvious - the only - answer is yes, because any player who has played his way onto the team deserves to be there.

No doubt our beloved European team captain Colin Montgomerie agrees with that, although when for next year's contest in Wales I would bet my life than Dyson's name wasn't on it. And my point is? Nothing, really - just that you never really know what's going to happen in sport, do you? Which I guess is what makes it so fascinating.

Speaking of which, it was fascinating to watch Monday's delayed final round to see if could covert a 54-hole lead into a tournament victory - his first for three years. Alas, the Englishman shot a one-over par 73 to finish in seventh place. This came as no surprise to some people, which brings us to what has become, in the word's of Mrs Merton, a 'heated debate" in European golfing circles.

Curiously for such a mild-mannered person, Donald provokes strong emotions among those who believe him to be the personification of everything that is wrong with the modern professional golfer - ie. over-paid and under-motivated, the kind of player who is happy to pick up top-10 cheques every week rather put himself through the pressure that comes with trying to win.

The 'anti-Donald" view is best represented by by Barker Davis - a writer with the Washington Times - which was written after this summer's Open Championship. Crucially, the headline identified something called "Luke Donald disease".

His backdoor top-five finish last week at Turnberry, where he didn't need to execute a single shot in the crucible of actual contention, was vintage Donald. Thanks for the cameo. Thanks for the cheque. Now back to the States for more of the same.
Donald isn't a bad guy. In fact, he's quite a pleasant fellow. He just isn't a driven one. And it's easy to understand why. Between his career earnings and cushy endorsement deals with Ralph Lauren and Mizuno, Donald has become a very wealthy man for a player with just four unremarkable victories on his resume. And as a result, the Donald some once labelled the "next Faldo" now looks more like the next Howard Clark.

The Guardian golf blog is no stranger to intemperate language, but Luke Donald disease? A bit harsh, you'd have to say. Even the Telegraph appeared to have second thoughts and ran with Donald a few weeks later in which it concluded that "Luke Donald disease doesn't exist".

Maybe so, but there is still a question about Donald, who has become a permanent fixture inside the world's top 50 and an occasional presence on the leaderboard at major championships without ever really winning that much. So what's the problem?

For a long time, I've been more inclined towards what you could call the "anti-Donald" camp. I think I may have referred to him in print as the Jeff Maggert of British golf, which some people might think is a compliment although I'm not one of them.

But over the weekend, Derek Lawrenson in the Mail had (or at least so beautifully simple that I hadn't thought of it):

The 31-year-old Englishman is one of the most maligned players in the sport and was the subject of a particularly offensive piece earlier this year in one broadsheet, where he was accused of lacking drive and of only being in the sport for the money. That was quite a judgment to make given the journalist in question had never met him.

'I think my family were more upset than me, but it did seem an extraordinary thing to write when you don't know someone and have never spoken to them,' said Donald. For the record, it is three years since Donald won anywhere, but lack of drive isn't the reason. Partly, it is due to a wrist injury which cost him six months of his career, but mostly it is due to the fact he is an average hitter in a big-hitter's world.

There will be holes today(Monday), for instance, when he will be fully 50 yards behind McIlroy off the tee. As he says: 'It's hard to win when some players are hitting eight irons into the greens and you're hitting four irons. It has become much harder for me to win because of the way the game has gone, but at the end of the day you have to find a way. There can be no excuse - no one's more aware than me that it is about time I returned to the winner's circle.'

Obviously, I don't think the Telegraph piece was "particularly offensive" (even if it was, so what?) and, likewise, journalists write about athletes, celebrities and politicians all the time without ever meeting them. Does that mean such pieces lack credibility or validity?

Anyway, I disgress.

Where the Mail piece struck the nail on the noggin was in pointing out that Donald is "an average hitter in a big-hitter's world". He is. In spades. In which case, maybe we should look at his career not as a disappointment but as something of achievement, in that here is someone who lacks the physical stature required for the modern game but yet he has managed to stay inside the world's top-50 for a very long time.

If you accept that, then you might be able to agree with the argument that Donald's biggest problem hasn't been his lack of desire but his failure to live up to people's expectations of what he might achieve in the game. He was a brilliant amateur a few years ago, with a great record and a textbook swing. But the professional game in 2009 requires different skills, the most important of which is the ability to hit the ball a country mile and then have the strength to whack it out of thick rough and on to the green with a wedge.

Actually, that really is a disease in golf. Just not Luke Donald disease.