LUKE Donald arrived in Melbourne with Australia's most successful golfer of recent times comparing him alongside "the greats". Geoff Ogilvy is clearly someone who doesn't believe a major is a necessity to rubber-stamp this world No 1's reputation.
Like the majority of his fellow pros, Ogilvy has been struck by the magnitude of Donald's achievement of winning both the US and European money lists in the same year. Following Donald sealing the unprecedented feat with the Race To Dubai title on Sunday, Rory McIlroy wondered "if it will ever be done again" while Graeme McDowell urged the media and public "to give Luke the credit he deserves". For Ogilvy this credit to be has fulsome.
"Luke's probably had one of the best 18 months anyone's ever had, including all the greats that you would instantly think of like Tiger [Woods] and [Greg] Norman," said the former US Open champion. "He's been a machine. He finishes top 10 almost every week he tees it up. Every single week it's mattered he's delivered; it's been an astonishing year."
The stats back him up, with Donald's third place in Dubai making it 20 top 10s from 26 tournaments played in 2011. At Victoria Golf Club, Donald will be out to win the Australia Masters, which would be his fifth title of the year, before he returns to Chicago to celebrate with his family. He will then return to competition in January and makes no secret of his principal ambition next year.
"Obviously a major is the only thing missing from my resume and I'm excited about 2012," said Donald. The 34-year-old revealed that, as garlanded this campaign has been, he has still learnt a lesson when it comes to peaking for the big four. "I've looked at my schedule for next year, and there will be a little bit more time off before the Majors, so I can feel like I'm extremely rested and ready to go for those events," said Donald. "That was the only area I felt like I maybe didn't manage quite so well in 2011 - at the US Open I felt like I was drained. I'd played a little bit too much leading up to that."
He is not about to go easy on himself, however. Donald is the player who works hardest on his short game and the benefits are clear. So much for the widely-held notion that golf was a game for the bombers and that shorter hitters such as Donald would be operating at too much of a disadvantage to crack the elite. In the last 15 years nobody but Woods has held a bigger lead in the world rankings. Has Donald, all 5ft 9ins of him, heralded golf's resurgence of the little man?
"I'm sure some golfers out there have looked at my success and figured out you don't need to hit it 100 miles," said Donald. "I think people are taking notice of what I've done and how I've done it and will maybe change the way they approach practice."
Five years ago, as those such as Hank Haney, Tiger's coach at the time, were writing off Donald as a big-time contender, Donald bowed to the criticism and sought to add length to his game. The result was a downward spiral. Donald went back to being Donald again and now the world understands why.
"I've proved that if you have a good and proficient short game and good putting you can have a decent year no matter what," said Donald. "There is more to this game than hitting it far. I would love to hit it further but I've got to stick with what I have and what my talents are. It's served me OK so far." With GBP8.5m ($AU13.2m) in on-course earnings - and probably rising - in 2011, only a fool would disagree.
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