In 2011 Luke Donald achieved something that nobody has ever done before. He was the leading money winner on both the PGA and European Tours in the same year, and to top that off, he also became the world number 1 ranked player.
After such an extraordinary year winning both The PGA Player of the Year and The European Golfer of the Year awards no one would argue that it wasn't well deserved.
He held the coveted World Golf Ranking number 1 position for 40 straight weeks from May 2011 to March 2012, until Rory McIlroy eclipsed him for a short period, and then they took turns at the number spot over a two month period.
By August 2012 Luke had held the number 1 position for a total of 56 weeks.
But let's wind the clock back to 1997 for a minute and Luke had accepted an invitation from the Stanford University golf coach to take up a golf scholarship, but the University later withdrew the offer at the last minute.
Undaunted by this setback Luke managed to secure a spot at Northwestern University on their golf team where he was to strike up a good working relationship with the Northwestern University golf coach Pat Goss.
In 1999 Luke won the NCAA Individual Championship at Hazeltine, and established himself as a world class amateur golfer.
He completed an art and music degree at Northwestern and then turned pro in 2001.
He managed to get some sponsors invitations in the summer of 2001 on the PGA Tour but wasn't successful in winning enough money in the 6 tournaments he played in to secure his tour card.
So he attended the PGA Tour Qualifying School at the end of that year and went on to win his tour card and playing privileges for 2002 season, and was on his way.
Luke maintained his player--coach relationship with Pat Goss and the partnership flourished, and so did Luke's performances, and by 2008 he had cracked the top 30 in the World Golf Rankings.
In 2010 he added high performance coach Dave Alred to his team, and Alred's job was to improve the training regime of Donald, which included high intensity practice drills that simulated the type of pressure he faced on the golf course on a daily basis.
Unfortunately since then Luke has slipped down the rankings and is currently outside the top 30, with a ranking of 32 and appears to be moving further down.
So what has happened to Luke Donald for him to lose his scoring game?
At the end of 2012 Alred was given his marching orders, Donald felt he was getting analytic overload from Alred and he wanted to get back to "playing golf" as he described it at the time.
Towards the end of the 2013 season, and with his playing performances slipping further, the long term player and coach relationship he had with Pat Goss was also terminated.
Donald then initially sought out Sean Foley, Tigers coach at the time, but Foley had no time for a new client and recommended Jason Dufner's coach Chuck Cook.
As you will see in my analysis it has not worked up to this point, and he missed out on selection on the European Team for the recently played Ryder Cup.
Luke at that time already possessed a world class short game and was an extremely good putter. Although an accurate shot-maker, he thought he was lacking in distance and was wanting to find more "horsepower."
The table of statistics below is based over four seasons from 2011 to 2014, and I have separated 2011 and 2012 by describing them as the Pat Goss and Dave Alred years, and 2013 and 2014 years as the Chuck Cook Years for comparison.
Hopefully we can identify where Luke may have lost some of his performance edge.
The first thing that stands out for me is Luke's change in swing coach's from Pat Goss to Chuck Cook to gain a few more yards, and improve his strokes gained tee-to-green.
Well so far it appears that this hasn't occurred, and in fact the difference between his 2011 and 2014 driving distances is a loss of 5.9 yards!
When at your best you're ranked 147, you really cannot afford to be going backwards with tee shot distance let alone anything else.
His driving accuracy has also dropped by 1.73% during this period.
In looking at it at face value I believe this long game decrease in performance has had quite an effect on his competitive stroke average as well, which has risen by 1.73 shots per round, which translates to nearly 7 shots more per tournament, which I'm sure you'll agree is significant.
So apart from his tee shot distance and accuracy, what areas of Luke's game are contributing the most to his slide from the number 1 to his present ranking of 32?
Take note of his Par 3, 4 and 5 scoring and ranking in 2011 because it was off the charts compared to his scoring average and par 3, 4 and 5 rankings for 2014.
Now look at his approach shots from 50 to 125 yards proximity to hole, 15' 4" and a rank of 2nd in 2011, now compare this to 19' 8" and a ranking of 142 in 2014.
That's a difference of 4 feet and 4 inches, and combine this result with his 4.01% drop in putting performance from 15 feet to 25 feet, and there's no doubt that this is where he is leaking some oil.
It's the same for his approach shots from 125 to 150 yards, and also his approach shots from 150-175 yards.
His proximity to hole with his approach shots is finishing further away from the hole so his ability to convert his putts has suffered.
So I'm sure he realizes that his proximity to the hole for this range of approach shots needs to get back to at least his 2011 numbers.
A question that could be asked is whether the swing changes he has made so far with his golf instructor Chuck Cook are partly responsible his drop in performance?
It is hard to say at this stage, but there's no question that there is a noticeable drop in his long game performance from his 2011 season to his 2014 season.
Only time will tell whether the changes he's making will be the difference he's aiming for.
His short putting (under 5 feet and from 5 feet to 10 feet) numbers are extremely good for both periods, and his ranking also confirms that he has maintained his conversion ratio from these important distances.
But the 15 feet to 25 feet statistics show a definite decline in performance.
Another question to ask is whether he is spending more time on the range working on his swing changes, and possibly neglecting his medium to long distance putting practice?
So has Luke stepped over the invisible line of thinking technical swing thoughts to try and generate improvement?
We hope not.
Luke Donald has a degree in art and music, and you could easily imagine that his ideal learning style or preference would be to learn with strong visual and kinesthetic cues (feels and imagery) rather than with other styles.
So we can be pretty sure that with the expert assistance of his instructor Chuck Cook he will not get caught up in the mine field of analyzing angles and radii, but rather learn how to improve his swing performance in a way that is more congruent with his learning style.
We can't be sure either way because we are not privy to the improvement strategies that he and Chuck Cook are working on, but one thing’s for certain, Luke needs to find a way to get to (or close to) the standard of his 2011 season.
Right now he’s on a slippery slope that many other exceptional professional golfers have also been on.
We are big fans of Luke Donald and we want to see him get his game back to his 2011 and 2012 performance levels because we never get tired of watching his classical and stylish golf swing in action in tournaments, combined with his ability to craft low scores with his exceptional short game skills.
Luke has proven beyond doubt that you don’t need the modern power game to become the number one golfer in the world, and we wish him all the best on his journey back to the top.
It's not an easy path, but he's done it before, so he can do it again.
David Milne and Lawrie Montague - Pro Tour Golf College
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