Luke Donald’s off-season regimen seems to be paying off in his 2013 PGA Tour debut this week at Riviera. Much of the efforts the Englishman, who’s taken up residence in Chicago, and now Florida, undertook to ready himself for the physical and mental rigors of the long PGA Tour campaign had to do with gym work and swing tweaks with his coach.
What’s getting the most notice, however, is Donald’s growing affinity with NBA Hall of Famer Michael Jordan and His Airness’ approach to the mental aspect of sports. While Donald was cagey about what specific secrets the hoops legend was whispering in his ear, it was clear that something was working, as the former No. 1 fired a second-round 5-under 66 to put him in solo possession of fifth place at the Northern Trust Open, just two shots off the 36-hole lead of Sang-Moon Bae and Frederik Jacobson.
“It's great just to be around someone that was arguably the greatest of all time in his sport; just to see how he reacts, his demeanor, see his attitude towards things,” Donald told reporters after Friday’s second round. “It's been nice just to spend a little bit of time with him.”
Their friendship has blossomed over the past couple of years since each has a home in nearby in Florida and belong to the same Jack Nicklaus’ Bear's Club in Jupiter. The golfer was not, however, about to give away any closely held advice the six-time basketball champ may have offered the wannabe major winner while Donald cleans out MJ’s wallet during their friendly yet very likely expensive competitive rounds.
“I think in no way am I working with Michael at all,” Donald said to laughter. “We literally are just friends. I try to pick up things from just watching him. I ask him some questions and he gives me answers sometimes.
“Certainly it's not like a working relationship. It's just nice to have access to someone that was that great at his sport.”
Of all the insights the Chicago Bulls legend may have imparted, Donald shared the traditional tip about one about playing within oneself.
“Most things he's said is, ‘Play with what you can control. Don't worry about trying to hit the ball far. You're one of the best short game players; just concentrate on that.’ Nothing too out of the ordinary.”
So, how much pick-pocketing goes on inside the ropes?
“I usually give him six a side,” Donald said with a smile about the reputed 4-handicapper, “and that's usually not enough for him.”
For sure, the pupil would like nothing more than to make the mentor proud and win won for Mike on Sunday, when Jordan turns 50. Given what seems to a brewing competition between the two, though, don’t expect him to give the old guy a break just because he'll be over the hill the next time they tee it up for bragging rights.