Mild-mannered Luke Donald and trash-talking Michael Jordan may seem a bit like the odd couple, but the two Chicagoans have the links and the desire to be the best in the world in common. Which is why golf’s No. 3 has sought out the NBA legend for some tips on improving the psychological approach to his game.
“He’s good for the mind,” Donald, a transplanted Englishman, told the Telegraph about his work with the six-time Chicago Bulls world champion ahead of his 2013 PGA Tour debut at this week’s Northern Trust Invitational. “He’s been making sure I’m ready mentally."
In addition to his Hall of Fame hoops career, Jordan is a reputed four-handicapper, golf whisperer to Tiger Woods, and Zelig-like booster of America’s Ryder and President Cup teams. As the Telegraph noted, it appeared as if some of Jordan’s brashness may have already seeped into the psyche of Donald, who averred his goal was to win that major that’s missing from his resume and topple Rory McIlroy from his throne and return to the premier spot atop golf’s rankings.
“I still believe that I can get back up there and have the chance to be No 1 again,” he said. “If I have a year like 2011 [when he won four times worldwide, ascended to the top position, and clinched the money titles on both the PGA and European Tours], it is possible. The rankings are tough because you basically have to at least match what you did in the season previously not to fall back. Last year was solid for me but I lost so many points because I had such a great year in 2011. It’s very hard to keep up. Rory’s going to see some of that this year.”
Specifically, Donald, who said he was “content” with his three-win 2012 season, has his sights set on that elusive major.
"I played solidly enough at the [British] Open," said Donald, who finished in a tie for fifth. "But the other three were nothing to write home about. I've got to figure out a way to be competitive at the majors -- that's the main aim this year.”
As for falling behind to start the season, with Woods and Phil Mickelson winning the Farmers Insurance Open and Waste Management Phoenix Open, respectively, Donald said it was tough to watch his opponents hoist trophies before he had even hit a ball in competition. He noted, however, that he used their success as “extra incentive to work harder on my improvements.”
The advances, in addition to channeling Jordan’s mental acuity, include a nuanced change to his backswing, daily sessions in the gym, and six hours on the range or course. He also plans to play each major venue for a few days prior to the event.
Mostly, though, Donald was using his course time with MJ at the Bear’s Club -- Jack Nicklaus’ exclusive enclave in Jupiter, Fla., where both Donald and Jordan are members -- to cadge as much knowledge about winning as he could from his new pal.
“It’s been good to pick Michael’s brains and find out what he was thinking about when he was playing basketball,” Donald said. “He’s always trying to play mind games. He doesn’t like to lose.”