TOUR Insider: Donald seeks solution at familiar Harbour Town

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April 17, 2013

By Fred Albers, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent

Lee Trevino once told me, “Nobody gets everything. Everybody is missing something.”

He went on to explain how Jack Nicklaus had tremendous length and putting ability but was inconsistent with chipping. Arnold Palmer struggled to hit the ball high, Gary Player wasn't blessed with tremendous strength and Trevino himself lamented that while “a blind man could find my ball in the middle of the fairway, he wouldn't have to walk very far from the tee."

Of course, the key to success on the PGA TOUR is finding a way to compensate for what is lacking.

In 2011, Luke Donald was ranked No. 1 in the world and yet was 147th on the PGA TOUR in driving distance at 284.1 yards.

How did the Englishman compensate? By putting and chipping better than anyone in the world.

In 2011, Donald was ranked No. 1 in strokes gained-putting. He also ranked fifth in bunker play, eighth in scrambling and had the best final round scoring average on TOUR at 68.06.

He went 434 holes without a three-putt.

You crunch all those numbers and you get $6,683,214. That's how much Donald won in leading the 2011 PGA TOUR in earnings.

Two years later, the numbers show a different player.

His driving is almost exactly the same. Donald averages 278.6 yards off the tee and is ranked 148th in distance, but his short game has changed.

Donald is now ranked 76th in strokes gained-putting, 48th in scrambling and 135th in final-round scoring average at 72.

I always thought Donald could score because he gave himself so many opportunities. He hit 67 percent of his greens in 2011, that number is now down to 62 percent.

Five percent doesn't sound like much, does it? Well, it's the difference between ranking 41st in 2011 and 168th this season in greens in regulation.

The margin for error on the PGA TOUR is so thin that every stroke is precious and when a player is not gifted with great length off the tee, his margin for error becomes even less.

Bubba Watson can afford to rank 157th in fairways hit because he averages 300.3 yards per drive and still finds 70 percent of the greens in regulation.

Long hitters have always had a decided advantage on the PGA TOUR. It is still easier to hit a pitching wedge from out of the rough onto the green than a 5-iron from the middle of the fairway.

I doubt Luke Donald is going to find a way to add 20 yards to his drives. For him to be successful, he has to return to the short game player we saw in the past.

Donald says he is working on alignment and setup but also confesses the best thing for his stroke would be to see a few more putts go into the cup to improve his confidence.

Chances are good he will do just that. Perhaps this week at the RBC Heritage, where Donald has posted a pair of second-place finishes and a T3 in the last four years.

Keep in mind; we have a very small sample size for this season. Donald has played in just five PGA TOUR events. He's 5 for 5 in cuts made, including a T4 at the Tampa Bay Championship presented by EverBank, and ranks 70th in FedExCup points.

The year is far from a disaster but it's also far from a fast start.

The only way to judge the future is by the past. History tells us Donald has a great short game and we should expect that to once again emerge. Until then, he'll learn to compensate.

Observations

Intimate: Harbour Town Golf Links is a tight track. Its fairways are narrow and the greens average 3,700 square feet. That places a premium on shotmaking. Hilton Head requires a mentally disciplined golfer who works his way around the course. The greedy player does not succeed at Harbour Town.

Family affair: This is one of the more popular stops on the PGA TOUR for a pair of reasons. Players love the golf course and the hospitality. You see more families out this week than in most tournaments. Players like a course that doesn't demand 300-yard drives and families like the ocean, the beach and bike paths. It's a great week to combine business with a family vacation.

Position: Harbour Town is a very subtle “risk-reward” golf course and I'm not referring solely to the par 5s. Position is required off every tee to provide the optimum angle to approach the greens. Players will give up length to achieve that proper sight line. However, the correct position in the fairway is usually the most dangerous line off the tee. The one cardinal rule this week: avoid the inside corner of doglegs. A golfer can recover if he's wide to the outside but anything along the inside elbow of a dogleg is trouble.

Winner, winner: I think Matt Kuchar's game is about ready to peak once again. He finished T8 at the Masters and Harbour Town is a course that should suit his game. The only drawback would be fatigue, as this is his third tournament in a row. I'm guessing Kuchar smells the finish line and posts his second win of the season before shutting things down to prepare for THE PLAYERS. Matt Kuchar wins the RBC Heritage.

Fred Albers is a course reporter for SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio. For more information on SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio, click here.

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