September 29, 2014
Ryder Cup 2014: Jamie Donaldson seals win with ‘wedge shot of my life’
It was a shot worthy of winning any game of golf, let alone a Ryder Cup in front of 45,000 rabid supporters and millions more on television who had been whipped into a state of high anticipation. The debutant Jamie Donaldson called the stroke that brought victory over Keegan Bradley, securing his third victory of the week and delivering the Ryder Cup for Europe, “the wedge shot of my life”. “He’s been sensational, incredible. It’s been a hell of a week,” said his captain, Paul McGinley, as he kissed the man who delivered the winning shot.
Donaldson broke off from his own TV interviews to embrace his parents as the emotions that the Europeans have kept in check beneath talk of plans and templates began to bubble to the surface. “It’s amazing. The lads have got on so well all week. It’s been great craic in there. It’s just an incredible week,” said the Welshman. “It’s hard to describe how good it is. It’s just … there’s nothing else like it in golf. It’s just a total one-off. It’s just a huge, huge thing, and it’s just been amazing to be a part of it.”
Lofted downhill from 146 yards to the 15th green, his approach shot landed within inches of the pin to a huge roar and sparked a wild, backslapping celebration from his hitherto reserved captain. “It was a perfect yardage and I played the wedge shot of my life to close the game out. I can’t really put words to it – it’s unbelievable,” said Donaldson. “I knew it was all getting tight there at the end. I was just trying to not spend too much time looking at the scoreboard and just concentrate on my match.”
As Donaldson, right, was submerged beneath a mob of congratulation from team-mates, his caddie Michael Donaghy, vice-captains and other assorted members of his entourage, two pivotal moments may have sprung to mind. First, when he ignored a doctor’s instructions to quit the game altogether in 2004 when struggling with a chronic back complaint (“The first doctor I went to see said, ‘don’t play’ – so I went to see someone else,” the 38-year-old has said. “That wasn’t what I wanted to hear. As soon as someone says that, you just go and see someone else!”).
Then, having sprung to prominence by winning the 2012 Irish Open and the 2013 Abu Dhabi Championship following years of toil on a European tour he joined in 2002, he almost missed out on the Ryder Cup. Ranked 25th in the world, Donaldson has only ever once finished in the top 10 in a major but since his breakthrough has consistently challenged in other tournaments. Donaldson, who lives in Macclesfield with his partner and two young children, had been in line to qualify for the team all year until a missed putt at the US PGA Championship left him out of the running for an automatic berth.
“I had a chat with him in the caddie room in the cart barn underneath Valhalla,” said McGinley before the first day. “He had just come off the 18th green. If he had got up-and-down, he would have been a Ryder Cup player. He didn’t. He knew he had to make twenty-odd-thousand euros in the next two events. He was pretty distraught. I had a good chat with him. We talked about it. We came up with a strategy of what he had to do to make the team. I didn’t want him to miss the team.”McGinley (left) told him straight that it would be difficult to pick him as a wildcard and that it was down to him to make the €20,000 he needed to secure his spot. “We came up with a plan that he was going to play Czechoslovakia [at the Czech Masters]. He went out there, and he played very aggressively and ended up winning the tournament,” said McGinley. “I know that was a huge psychological boost for him, to be able to make the team and to be able to burst through the line the way he did.”
As a beaming Donaldson marched up the 18th green behind Victor Dubuisson with a Welsh flag around his shoulders, he in many ways epitomised the teamwork and bond that underpinned their success. “It’s a great sense of pride, as I say, this ugly face,” laughed McGinley in the post victory melee, grabbing Donaldson’s cheeks. “How happy it is, and the pride that we give to everybody, and the happiness of people in the stands, that’s what you did.”
McGinley said that Lee Westwood had acted as almost an extra vice-captain in mentoring Donaldson. “I love it,” said Westwood. “I have as much fun playing for myself as seeing somebody else take to it like a duck to water.”
The pair overcame Matt Kuchar and Jim Furyk during one of the crucial foursomes sessions that formed the backbone of Europe’s victory. For Donaldson, it was the man who meticulously planned Europe’s victory under cloudless skies who had set the tone for a week he will never forget. “Paul captained one of the Seve Trophies I played in and I told everybody that he was going to be unbelievable here. He’s certainly done a lot more than that. He’s been incredible.”