Donald hopes reunion with coach sparks success
November 05, 2014
By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
- Pat Goss and Luke Donald, seen here in 2008, are working together once again after they recently reconnected. (David Cannon/Getty Images)
A few weeks ago, Pat Goss’ phone rang. On the other end was Luke Donald, who wanted to know if Goss would be interested in returning as his swing coach.
“I didn’t anticipate (the call),” said Goss. “A few people had asked me (if I thought he would call) and I told everybody I didn’t think that would happen.”
Goss had coached Donald since recruiting him to Northwestern University in the late 1990s and had remained with him until Donald split for Chuck Cook just over a year ago, retaining Goss in only a short-game capacity in the process.
But Goss also needed a day or two to think about it.
After almost 15 years coaching Donald and even longer at Northwestern, he thought about what else he was interested in doing with his coaching and wanted to objectively evaluate the right thing to do.
“In the end, there was no way I could make that evaluation objectively because I have been so emotionally invested with Luke for so many years,” Goss said. “How much I care about him was too big a factor. We’ve been great friends and kind of came up together and that’s one of the things that’s unique about our relationship.”
Not so much unique as it was surprising was how Donald and Cook ended up together in the first place.
After playing with Justin Rose and watching him win the U.S. Open at Merion in 2013, Donald was anxious to elevate his own game. He turned to veteran Cook, who had worked with Payne Stewart and Tom Kite and more recently Keegan Bradley and Jason Dufner.
Under Goss, Donald focused on the things he already did well: short game, bunker play, putting. With Cook, he turned his attention to the opposite, employing his big muscles and using less wrist and more turn in his swing.
Donald didn't have a terrible year -- he earned just under $1.5 million and had three top 10s, including a runner-up, in the 2013-14 PGA TOUR season -- but was left off the European Ryder Cup team and wasn’t achieving the types of gains he hoped. So he decided to part ways with Cook and go back to Goss.
“It was a big alteration but I thought I could do it as I’ve always considered myself a fast learner," Donald -- a top-10 player in the world when he hired Cook and now 36th entering this week’s World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions -- told The Telegraph last week. "But I can see how difficult it is to break down 30 years of golfing DNA. It’s funny, we see someone like Tiger (Woods) going through radical swing changes and winning more and more majors and think it can be done. But actually there are not many players who have ripped it all up and been successful.
“I lost sight of what made me successful. I focused too much on what I perceived as my weakness and forgot about my strength, which is from 150 yards and in.
Donald’s wife Diane was a bit more blunt in her assessment.
“Playing bad sucks,” she said. “Anytime you go from No. 1 in the world to struggling with your swing it’s going to be kind of difficult.
“It was really frustrating for him because he was working really hard, felt like he was close to breaking through and he would compete and he wasn’t seeing the results.”
But the year apart also provided something else for Donald: Appreciation.
“(Luke and Pat’s) relationship will be better because they had some time apart,” Diane said. “Pat is so much more to Luke than a coach.”
The two are so close that when Luke and Diane got married in Greece in 2007, Goss’ kids served as flower girls in the wedding. But like any good couple together for so long a little time apart proved beneficial.
“The year away gave him a better understanding of and appreciation for the things we were doing,” Goss said. “He could see the value.”
So, too, does Goss in Donald returning to his roots. And why not? It was that type of small ball that took Donald to No. 1 in the world in 2011, the same year he also finished atop the PGA TOUR’s money list and European Tour’s Race to Dubai.
“The first thing I did was to get back to building his game from his strengths; putter, short game, bunker, wedges, shots inside 150 yards,” Goss said of their sessions this fall. “With the distance he hits the ball, that’s where he has to make up the difference.”
But it’s more than coaching that might provide the biggest difference for Donald.
"Pat is really like a mentor to Luke," Diane said. "He understands Luke in a way that no one else does. I’ll say something to cheer him up and Luke will say, 'It doesn’t sound as good as when Pat says it.' "
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