Former world number one Luke Donald has an intriguing new celebrity advisor who might just help him end his long wait to win a Major this year. Ralph Ellis reports on an unlikely Atlantic alliance...
It's not hard to understand why Rory McIlory so swiftly became the new megastar of world golf. He ticks all the boxes. Sensational talent; good looks; bubbly personality; superstar girlfriend; hits the ball a million miles - a winner.
Of the Brits who have occupied the number one spot in the world rankings since Tiger's era of total dominance ended, Lee Westwood is a popular figure too. His is an inspiring story of the talented sportsman who soared to success in his early days, crashed back down to virtually nowhere, then applied himself to a work ethic to battle back to the top.
Behind them is the group of nearly men who have their own romantic tales. Justin Rose had to cling on through a horrendous start to his pro career to find the consistency it takes to be up there with the best. And Ian Poulter, daft trousers and all, is the man who used to sell Mars Bars on a council driving range but had a dream of strutting the world stage and made it come true.
And then there's Luke Donald. Four times the world number one, the first player officially to head the money list for both the European and PGA tours, MBE, great family man - and yet somehow a player who has completely failed to grab the imagination of the wider British public. The story goes that at Wimbledon last year he was sat in the Royal Box next to Kylie Minogue. "What do you do?" she asked him - and on being told "I'm a professional golfer", the singer suggested he couldn't be much good because she hadn't heard of him. He was world number one at the time!
Donald makes his first appearance of the season, somewhat belatedly, at the Northern Trust Open in California tomorrow. He comes, as ever, with little fanfare. But it seems he now has a major celebrity fan who does know exactly who he is. Basketball legend Michael Jordan has become a close friend since they both became members of the exclusive Bear's Club in Florida, and the understated Englishman has been taking some tips from an American icon.
"Michael is good for the mind," Donald has told the Daily Telegraph's James Corrigan in an excellent interview. "He's been making sure I am ready mentally. He always tries to play mind games and doesn't like to lose."
It was mental strength that gave Donald his best season so far in 2011 and the new friendship might just help him regain that form this season. He's also gone back to the build up routine of that great year, taking five full weeks off before a ferocious six week "pre-season training camp", in the gym at 7.30 each day before six hours on the range or the course. Meanwhile he's turned down lucrative offers to change manufacturers and stuck with his favourite Mizuno clubs.
Will it help achieve his big goal, a first Major win? Well he is 3.65n/a in the early Specials market to win one of the game's big four titles, and while that's not exactly a slam dunk bet, with Jordan's help it might just be worth keeping an eye on.
13 February 2013