Luke Donald: Golf and watches
The barely audible ticking of a Rolex Daytona was the only sound that Luke Donald could hear as he stood stooped over his putter on the 18th green of the Jumeirah Golf Estate’s Earth Course in 2011. Tick, tick, tick. Make the putt and you make history – we imagine he told himself. Tick, tick, tick. And make the putt he did.
As the ball dropped – accompanied by a thunderous roar from a thousand-strong crowd who encircled the green – Luke Donald became the first man to top the money list on both the US PGA Tour and the European Tour in the same year. On top of that, he was world number one.
Four years on since that triumphant December evening in the Dubai sunshine, it hasn’t been all smooth sailing. A dip in form and a series of coach changes has seen Donald without a win on tour since 2013 and his ranking drop out of the Top 50. But for a man who built his career on consistency and precision, the improvement he has shown in 2015 has him confident about what lies ahead.
As we scamper up the steps, late, to the Rolex VIP box the day before the 2015 edition of the season-ending DP World Tour Championship tournament, the ever-punctual Donald is waiting patiently.
Impeccably dressed – he is, after all, no stranger to a Best Dressed Golfer’s list – in a Breton-striped Ralph Lauren Polo shirt and sporting a Rolex Submariner, he looks at ease. Hardly a surprise as we sit overlooking the site where he made history…
ESQ: What’s the feeling sitting up here overlooking the 18th?
LD: It’s a great feeling. I have a lot of positive memories of this course. Any time you can come back to a place where you made history or great memories is a week that you look forward to.
Do you see that as the high point of your career?
Absolutely, yeah. I was world number one at the time, and was in the form of my life.
Since then things haven’t gone as well. Has your motivation changed?
Certainly. The goal now isn’t to get back to number one. I’ve experienced that and enjoyed it, but I don’t think about it. I would love to start being a little bit more consistent again, finishing in the top ten of tournaments and challenging for titles. If I can do that, then my ranking will take care of itself and move back to where it should be. The focus is to not get too far ahead of myself in terms of results. Gradual progress will eventually lead to more success.
Donald holding the Race to Dubai trophy in 2011
Two of the hallmarks of your game have been consistency and precision. Is that what brought about your relationship with brands like Rolex?
Rolex were excited to represent a player who mirrored the kind of traits that they see in their company. As was I.
How did that relationship start?
I was a very good amateur golfer, and turned professional in 2001 when the sport was really blossoming globally, and there were plenty of sponsorship opportunities. I have always tried to surround myself with iconic brands, like Ralph Lauren, and I heard that Rolex were looking at me. They’ve been involved with golf for a long time, and represented some of the greatest ever players, so it was a natural fit.
Are you interested in timepieces?
I come from a strong artistic background. My brothers and sisters were arty, and we went to an arty school. In fact, I even studied art as a major at college. I think having an interest in art and fashion goes hand-in-hand with an appreciation of watches.
How many do you own?
I have about eight or nine Rolexes. Several of which, however, are special editions that were given to me for being part of Ryder Cup teams and things.
Do you have a favourite?
Probably the first one that I bought. It is a platinum Daytona with a black face and white dials. It’s very classic, which is what I like. You can’t go wrong with that watch.
Are you a bit of a collector of other things?
I collect wine. In fact, I have my own wine label and I’ve very much into some of the older bottles. My wife and I have bought some art for our house, but outside of that, I own a few watches.
You mentioned your artistic side, is that something you do on the side?
Not nearly as much as I would like to. The last piece I did was for the Ryder Cup in 2012. It was in Medina in Chicago, somewhere where I’ve spent a lot of time, and where I have a house. They approached me to make a giant golf ball that would be positioned all around the city. The trouble is, as any father will tell you, that when you have young kids your life changes and you start spending most of free time with them. I would love to pick it up again at some point.
The last time we spoke was earlier this year at a gala dinner after a tournament in St Andrews in Scotland. Do you ever get tired of attending events or is it a fun part of what you do?
That side of things is very much part of the job these days. I remember that event in St Andrews being a really fun evening. I missed the cut earlier that day, so I was able to relax and let my hair down a bit, which I don’t normally get to do. I remember seeing [Fifty Shades of Grey] actor Jamie Dornan there. My wife is enamoured with him and was too embarrassed to go and say ‘hello’ so she made me go over. It was funny because as I introduced myself, he said that he had wanted to come over and talk to me, but was too embarrassed! It’s funny how golf has become so popular with celebrities and other athletes, and it’s even stranger when they are in awe of you!
Do you enjoy playing in Pro-Ams?
Yeah, I do. It’s one of the great things about golf, that doesn’t happen in other sports. You get to play a round with amateurs and celebrities, and you can end up making some good relationships with them. Although, that said, sometimes you can be paired with some truly horrendous players, which can be interesting!
Who’s the worst person you’ve played with?
I can’t tell you that, but I can say that at that event in St Andrews, I was paired with Jamie Redknapp, the ex-England and Liverpool footballer. We’d met a few times, and have formed a really good friendship through playing various golf charity events.
Have you ever thought of approaching Rolex to do a collaboration?
That would be pretty cool, but I’m not sure if I’m high enough up the food chain for them! It would be interesting to see what the process of doing that would be, and the meticulous detail that goes into coming up with new designs. Obviously, a lot of their designs are very classic, and there is not a huge amount that changes, but they do tweak their designs every year, and it’s always nice to see what they do.
As a former world number one, and having won multiple titles, do you still get nervous teeing off on the first?
I do. Mainly on the first round of a tournament, and some events more so than others. The Ryder Cup is probably the most nervous I’ve ever been teeing off. Then the Majors are a little bit behind that. I think it would be weird if you didn’t have some nerves because the events are the reason that you spend hours on end training for. I think nerves are a good thing. They get you focused, they get you motivated. After 14 years of being a professional, you learn how to deal with them better. In the past couple of seasons, I’ve been more nervous because I wasn’t performing as well. It doesn’t come from being less prepared, or practicing and less, it’s that little bit of the unknown and knowing that you haven’t quite got as much confidence as you’d like. That’s the difference between where I am right now, and where I was a couple of years ago. You definitely feel the nerves on Thursday mornings, but after a hole or two you get into a rhythm and you get going.
Is that the best feeling in the world?
When you’re in that zone, you don’t think about much, it just flows out of you and that is pretty cool.
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This article was originally published in Esquire Middle East’s Big Watch Book