In a new series of features we take a trip back in time and highlight players who have made one solitary Ryder Cup appearance in their careers – but made a telling contribution. In this first edition, we look at the role played by Jamie Donaldson at the 2014 edition at Gleneagles…
There are arguably two candidates for the One-Hit Wonder from Europe’s Ryder Cup winning team of 2014 as both Jamie Donaldson and Victor Dubuisson came into their own under Paul McGinley’s leadership in Scotland.
While the enigmatic Dubuisson was lauded for his two wins in the foursomes alongside the gritty veteran Graeme McDowell, it is Donaldson’s heroic shot to within gimme distance to defeat Keegan Bradley 5&3 and win the cup outright which is etched firmly in the minds of golf fans around the world.
The Welshman was in the form of his life that summer. A month earlier he clinched his third title on the European Tour at the Czech Masters to cement his place in the side and arrived in Scotland fresh off a T4 finish at the Wales Open.
Not Out of Place
One of three rookies on McGinley’s team, Donaldson never once felt out of place and settled into his new environment right away.
“It’s funny because when I was growing up I didn’t really like team games and that’s why I played golf,” he said. “But having experienced The Ryder Cup I think it’s definitely the best feeling to play in a team environment in your chosen sport.
“I was a rookie, but I felt like I was a big part of the team and never felt overawed. Those thoughts of qualifying late and ‘how am I going to cope’ or anything like that didn’t really come out. It just felt really natural and when I got there I felt as good as anybody else in the team, in terms of the form I was in going into the week.”
Europe assumed control over the first two days with Donaldson winning both his foursomes matches alongside veteran Lee Westwood to help set up a 10-6 lead going into the singles.
A comeback on the scale of Europe’s epic resurgence two years ago from the same deficit at Medinah never seemed likely, but McGinley warned his team of complacency before the tee times on Sunday morning.
“I teed off in the tenth match on Sunday and there weren’t that many people watching our game,” recalled Donaldson. “But by the time we started to get into the back nine our crowds started to build and when we hit our drives down the 15th it seemed like everyone was suddenly at our match.”
A matter of who rather than when
The Americans had produced something of a fight-back but were never in contention to win and it soon became a matter of which European was going to have the honour of sealing the winning point – and it fell to Donaldson.
“From the fairway I just had a perfect number to the flag, which is what you want in those circumstances. I hit the shot and knew as soon as it left the face it was going to be good – I just didn’t think it would land about a foot from the hole. And then that was it.
“It’s the best moment in my golfing career. The beauty of it for me was coming into The Ryder Cup with form and continuing that form through the week. And to play as well as I played was extremely satisfying – it just so happened to be at The Ryder Cup.”
Donaldson had enjoyed a purple patch in his career over a two-year spell. He clinched his first European Tour title in style with a four-shot win at the Irish Open at Royal Portrush in 2012 and won the following year’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
In 2014 a runner-up finish at the WGC-Championship at Doral accelerated his Ryder Cup claims and he sealed it with the victory in the penultimate qualifying event in the Czech Republic.
Arriving at Gleneagles full of confidence, Donaldson left a hero, but his career has slowed in recent years after struggling with various injuries, including a wrist problem in 2018 which threatened to end his playing time on Tour and required surgery.
Working behind the ropes
During his recovery the 44-year-old enjoyed stints commentating for BBC Radio and Sky Sports and admits it could be an avenue he pursues once his playing career winds down.
“I enjoyed it and I will be forever grateful for those opportunities,” he said. “It’s a great bunch of people and I’ve enjoyed the craic.
“It’s something different and is something I might do when I stop playing – if there’s an opportunity.”
Donaldson returned to the European tour in May last year having not teed it up since October 2018 and posted a top-ten finish at the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open.
Whatever happens, his place in Ryder Cup folklore remains, and a plaque on the 15th fairway on the PGA Centenary Course at Gleneagles is a fitting commemoration of Donaldson’s winning wedge.