JAMIE Donaldson missed one flight from Manchester to Edinburgh yesterday and only made the next one after sprinting to the gate. But, when it comes to a different type of flight – one that involves launching a golf ball with a wedge from 146 yards to a tricky pin position on the 15th green of the PGA Centenary Course at Gleneagles – it’s a walk in the park for the Welshman.
Returning for the first time to the spot at the Perthshire venue from where he struck the winning shot in last year’s Ryder Cup, deadly Donaldson proved it had been no fluke by hitting it to six feet with his first attempt then half that distance with the next one.
Twenty-eight yards on and five in from the right, it was the same pin position Donaldson, one of the rookies in the European team, took aim at in his singles match against Keegan Bradley and struck a majestic blow to a foot, ensuring victory for Paul McGinley’s men in a match they went on to win 16½-11½.
The only difference yesterday was that he didn’t have the eyes of the sporting world focusing on him or an ever-increasing gallery watching. In comparison, it must have felt like the occasion was taking place behind closed doors as Donaldson got down on his hands and knees to lay a plaque commemorating “The Winning Shot” in front of a small group that included Europe’s Ryder Cup director Richard Hills and Sandy Jones, the chief executive of the PGA.
“I don’t think my divot was that big,” quipped Donaldson on seeing the piece of turf that had been cut for the said plaque, before admitting it was a huge honour to have a shot remembered in the same way as many other majestic blows have over the years.
At Turnberry, for instance, there is one on the 18th hole to commemorate the 7-iron Tom Watson hit within two-feet in his “Duel in the Sun” with Jack Nicklaus in the 1977 Open Championship. There is also one at The Belfry to mark Seve Ballesteros becoming the first player to hit the green at the par-4 tenth when playing against Nick Faldo in the 1978 Hennessy Cup.
It brings back great memories, being here, remembering the best year of my career – and the weather is great againJamie Donaldson
“Seve’s also got one at Crans-sur-Sierre,” pointed out Donaldson of the miracle shot the Spaniard produced from behind the wall on the right-hand side of the 18th fairway in a European Masters at the Swiss course. “There’s an Arnold Palmer one at Birkdale (for a 6-iron to the 16th in his 1961 Open Championship win) and Ben Hogan’s 1-iron plaque (for his approach to the 18th in the final round of the 1950 US Open at Merion). It’s mad that I’m now in that company.”
Donaldson blamed jet-lag – he’s just home from a four-month stint in America, where he signed off with a flourish by finishing joint-eighth in The Players’ Championship – for the travel problems he encountered before making a belated arrival back at the venue where his name will be synonymous forever more.
“I’m only ten minutes from the airport, so I left it late-ish,” admitted the Macclesfield-based player. “But, as luck would have it, there was a hell of a load of traffic on the way. I still thought I’d be alright when I got to the airport but they said ‘no’. I actually nearly missed the second one because they didn’t put a gate number on the board. So I’m sitting there waiting until an announcement comes out ‘final call for Donaldson, closing gate’. So I’ve run twice for two flights this morning.”
There was no such frenzy when he returned to the spot that effectively changed his career. Getting there in a buggy had involved driving through the tunnel with its walls emblazoned with historic moments in both European and US Ryder Cup history. If repeated elsewhere, an image of Donaldson being engulfed would deserve to be included. “I didn’t think I could hit a wedge that far, but the adrenaline was pumping,” he recalled, walking towards the spot close to the centre of the fairway. Then, it had been what Donaldson described as the “perfect yardage”. But would it be again?
“I’ve got to hit a wedge because it would be cheating if I didn’t,” he said, smiling, admitting “that was better than I thought I’d do” after then knocking it six feet left of the pin. The TV cameras needed him to try again so they could track it from the opposite direction. No wonder he was smiling like a Cheshire cat as that one ended up three feet to the right.
“Not bad,” he said in something of an understatement. “It brings back great memories, being here, remembering the best year of my career – and the weather is great again. It was perfect for the Ryder Cup and it’s been perfect for me trying to imitate the wedge into 15.”