Team Europe Captain Luke Donald is Not Done Competing

Insufferable, this obsession for analytics that have overrun our sports world. Meander into the statistics tab of a PGA Tour database that keeps track of tournaments and players and there’s a minimum of 39 categories where you can explore to your heart’s content.

But for those of us who can respect that a 4-under 67 or a 6-under 66 are pretty good and can move on with our days without needing to know who led the field in “Strokes Gained: Off the Tee,” it is a comforting feeling to trust our senses, our experience, and our eyes without needing analytics as a crutch.

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Team Europe Captain Luke Donald lifts the trophy after his team win during the Sunday singles matches of the 2023 Ryder Cup at Marco Simone Golf Club on October 1, 2023 in Rome, Italy (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)

Seeing Luke Donald open his 2024 pro golf season in Dubai on January 11 brought these thoughts to the forefront. Few competitors have made their way through 23 seasons of professional golf with as much splendor as Donald and where he ranks in any category of your choosing means zero. That he’s handled the ups and downs with dignity and checks all the boxes for doing this pro golf business the right way means more than any data spit out of a computer.

“I figured out my own path,” Donald said with a smile last spring during the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head, S.C., an annual stop that he cherishes. “I’m very happy with what I’ve achieved.”

Of course, in this “What have you done for me lately” world, no one savors nostalgia or probably cares that Donald was utterly brilliant in 2011–12 and spent 56 weeks at No. 1. That’s 56 weeks more than Phil Mickelson ever experienced at world best, 44 more than Nick Price, and 47 more than Ernie Els. Those numbers—they are not analytics!—speak to something special about Donald’s career, even if some might insist upon an asterisk because Tiger Woods was not at his very best in 2011–12. So be it.

More relevant to today’s world, Donald is the guy who captained Team Europe to a riveting 2023 Ryder Cup victory just four months ago in Italy. Even more sexy is that Donald has been tabbed for New York in 2025, the first time since 1995 that the Europeans will have the same captain (Bernard Gallacher) back-to-back.

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Luke Donald tees off on the 10th hole on Day One of the Dubai Invitational at Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club on January 11, 2024 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

(It’s fair to point out that six strong candidates for Ryder Cup captaincy—Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Graeme McDowell, Martin Kaymer—are currently blacklisted by Team Europe for having signed on with LIV Golf.)

But unlike Captain Donald in 2023 and Captain Donald in 2025—in those circumstances you’ve got one eye and half your mind on reconnaissance—Donald in 2024 is free to focus on his golf and see if at age 46 he can still stir up a little game.

“You feel the body doesn’t work quite as well,” he said before the start of the Dubai Invitational, where he was in the 60-player field out of the Legends Category and finished T-20 at 7-under-par. “But I still enjoy coming out and competing and trying my best against some of these great young players.

“It’s not easy, but I love competing.”

His is a polished competitive spirit that captures your attention and is very pleasing to the senses. You just know what you’re watching is a graceful talent.

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During his reign as the World No. 1—Luke Donald celebrates holing a birdie putt on the 3rd green during the first round of The 140th Open Championship at Royal St George’s on July 14, 2011 in Sandwich, England. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

Everything about the swing—the tempo, the rhythm, the timing—is poetic and Donald’s philosophy has always been one to admire. The game, he has often said, should be learned backward. That is, work on your putting and short game, step back to get comfortable with wedges and mid-irons, then settle onto the tee box with your driver.

Crazy, but in a world where virtually every golfer would love to have Donald’s swing, there’s probably not a teacher anywhere on the planet who would tell an aspiring competitor to “swing like Luke.”

It seems such an unfathomable disconnect, yet it’s true. “It’s all about hitting it hard,” shrugs Donald.

Alas, ferocity is not in Donald’s DNA. The Englishman is not about to reinvent himself with grip-and-rip or bomb-and-gouge. There was a time when he did experiment and chase distance, but he hurt his wrist and came to the proper conclusion that his career would be predicated on good health.

He returned to tactics and course management, mantras that had been his bread and butter. Three years later, he became No. 1 in the world.

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Tiger Woods waits with Luke Donald on the second tee during the third round of the WGC-NEC Invitational on August 20, 2005 at the Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

Nothing Donald did in 2023, back when he only had one eye on his game, made him think he had to walk away from competition. He made 14 cuts in 22 worldwide starts and in the two weeks directly in front of the Ryder Cup, Donald finished T-45 at the Irish Open and T-38 at the BMW PGA Championship.

The ’25 captaincy can wait. “I’ve got plenty of time to kind of work some things out and start thinking about things,” he says.

Instead, Donald is ready to give it his best, fully focused on being a player. He surely understands the parameters for a 46-year-old, though.

“I have to be a little bit more efficient,” he says. “I just can’t grind out there six, seven hours a day. I’ll try to be a bit more efficient with my time but do enough where I feel like I’m sharp and ready to compete.”

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