Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 22 July 2014

The Open: Donald turns to rugby star Wilkinson's coach

Hopes are high for an English win in this year's British Open. But where to go for the inspiration?

To Sir Nick Faldo perhaps, the last countryman to lift the Claret Jug?

Justin Rose and Ian Poulter certainly see the value of his experience, regularly dining with the six-time major winner to pick up tasty titbits. However, our Nick never has been to everyone's taste.

Well, how about looking further afield, out of the country club gates and onto the pitches of England's last great sporting glory?

How about to Jonny Wilkinson and that boot which conquered the world? How about applying his disciplined regime to a pursuit which requires the mental side to back up the physical more than any other?

Luke Donald is doing just that and here this week he and the coach who gave Wilko his radar, Dave Alred, have been hard at it on the practice green. The similarities are obvious. Repeated kicks at the uprights; repeated strokes at the hole. The connection was waiting to happen.

“My brother-in-law lives in Bristol and is a big rugby fan and saw Dave at the gym a few times,” says Donald, explaining how the partnership was first forged.

“We thought we would give it a try from a different angle so in January we started working together. He's not a traditional sports psychologist; he's more of a performance guy.”

Alred first became involved in golf as part of what has become labelled “The Melissa Reid Experiment”.

Sir Clive Woodward formed a team around the English starlet to give a non-Olympian the Olympic back-up. The experiment was not a success and Reid now plots a more traditional path to the top.

The failing with that project, however, has been accepted to have been more to do with the size of the entourage than the identities.

Thus Alred has been given the opportunity to prove that his philosophy can cross the sporting spectrum.

“It's nothing to do with goal-kicking really,” explains Donald (pictured).

“We try to look at ways of making my practice more efficient and at ways of practising more under pressure, rather than going through the routine of just hitting balls and not thinking about it. We are trying to make it a bit more front-footed.

“Dave doesn't want me out there for hours and hours but he wants to look at every part of my game and do as much as I can to maximise my game.

“It is hard to quantify but if you look at my results it seems to be working.”

Indeed it does. In the six months they have been together, Donald has moved up from outside the world's top 30 to re-crack the top 10.

In May, he lifted his first trophy in two years, his success in Madrid capping a three-week stretch in Europe which also saw him finish second at Wentworth and third in Wales.

After 18 months or so, during which a wrist injury led to a frustrating time of inactivity and then mediocrity, Donald has begun to look like Donald again.

There has always been a touch of the Wilkinson about Luke — the modest approach to both fame and expectation.

Certainly rugby's comeback man would be impressed with the Donald resurgence.

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