It is hard to believe, bordering on astonishing, that at one point, Jamie Donaldson sat in a doctor’s office and listened to a sombre recommendation that he quit playing golf, or risk inflicting permanent damage to his back.
The Welsh veteran showed plenty of spine yesterday, to be sure.
Nine years after an injury threatened to end his career, the 37 year old continued his climb up the game's pecking order with his second victory in six months, holding on for a tense, one-stroke win at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.
Like a solid set of vertebrae, the veteran bent, but did not break, shooting 68 to record the best round of any player in the last four groups, finishing 14-under par at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.
The finish was stressful enough to send anybody to the chiropractor. Donaldson opened the door for Justin Rose and the rising standout Thorbjorn Olesen when he three-putted the final hole for a bogey, but both players missed birdie putts from inside 15 feet that would have forced a sudden-death play-off.
It took 255 career starts on the European Tour, and more than a few personal, physical and professional detours, before Donaldson recorded his first win last summer at the Irish Open.
It only took 14 to hoist a second winner’s trophy, this time against a field that included three of the top five players in the world ranking, including the No 5 Rose.
“Awesome,” Donaldson said, not quite believing it himself. “It was a tough field, a brutal golf course, and to sit here as the winner is quite surreal.”
That is even more the case when Donaldson’s CV is subjected to any degree of scrutiny. A journeyman’s journeyman, he said he spent four years “in the wilderness” because of injury and poor play, was sent back to the developmental Challenge Tour, and was advised that quitting might be best for his long-term health.
“Perseverance is a big word,” Donaldson said.
So is stubbornness. Donaldson said the low point, and there doubtlessly were several, was around 2004, when he was “scared of stepping off a curb, afraid the back would go”.
He showed all the mettle anybody would want until finally blinking on the 72nd hole and gave Olesen and Rose gift-wrapped chances to force a play-off. He watched on television in the recorder’s office, having finished one group ahead of the last twosome, and seethed.“I wanted to punch something,” he said.
He did – a ticket into the all the biggest events on the calendar, including the World Golf Championships tournaments, with guaranteed paydays.Rose, so stellar all week, hit some loose shots yesterday and finally ceded control when Donaldson birdied four times in a seven-hole stretch starting at the ninth.
His putt to force a play-off on the last green rudely lipped out and did everything but dive into the hole. He theatrically flipped the putter into the air as the ball spun out of the cup.
“I feel for the most part that I did a lot of good things,” Rose said. “There are so many positives to take from this. I am obviously swinging it well and dare I say, hopefully it set me up for bigger and better things.”
Same for Donaldson, who seems reborn at age 37. Confidence is a curious thing. Just like that, the victory will jump him into the top 30 in the world.
Donaldson never remotely envisioned the week finishing this way, especially in a field that included the world Nos 1 and 2, Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods. He played so poorly in the wind during his pro-am round on Wednesday that he told his amateur partners, "to get a top-10 will be a miracle. It's hilarious."
The degree to which he has climbed so quickly is good for a smile, too. Donaldson has never before played in a Masters or US Open, but has been green-lighted for both thanks to his strong stretch over the past few months.
It is a good thing he ignored that doctor’s advice. Straightaway, he sought another opinion.
“It wasn’t what I wanted to hear,” Donaldson said.
Second opinion, second career, second victory. It was doubtlessly worth the wait.
and Steve Elling