GLENEAGLES, Scotland – The decisive match. The shot of his life. Jamie Donaldson will never forget his Ryder Cup debut.
The chance to clinch Europe’s third straight victory in golf’s biggest team event fell to a strapping, mild-mannered Welsh rookie who was nothing more than a journeyman pro only two years ago.
He didn’t let it pass.
Unaware he had already retained the cup for Europe on the previous hole, Donaldson hit a 9 iron from 146 yards to within 18 inches of the pin on No. 15 at Gleneagles on Sunday.
The crowd roared. Donaldson thrust his right arm up in the air and was slapped on the back by his captain. He didn’t need to make the tap-in – Europe had won again.
“This is the pinnacle,” said Donaldson, draped in a Welsh flag and surrounded by joyous teammates and family members by the side of the 15th green.
He guzzled down champagne and soaked in an atmosphere and experience he’d always dreamed of being part of.
Donaldson is a late developer in golf, winning his first tournament – the Irish Open in the summer of 2012 – at the age of 36. The following two years has seen him top a loaded field in Abu Dhabi at the start of 2013, crack the top 30 in the rankings and make regular appearances at the majors.
But making the Ryder Cup team, by winning the next-to-last qualifying event in the Czech Republic, sealed a career ambition.
“It was all he ever wanted,” his mother, Jacqui, told The Associated Press as she looked over at her son surrounded by reporters and camera crews on the 15th. “It’s what he has ever aimed for all his life.”
Donaldson, the seventh Welshman to play in the Ryder Cup, won two points in three matches with Lee Westwood over Friday and Saturday and was sent out in the 10th match in the singles.
Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy and Martin Kaymer won three of the first six matches, Justin Rose had earned a half, but Europe still needed another half to retain the cup and a win to take it outright.
Step forward Donaldson.
Four up with five to play, Donaldson narrowly missed a 10-foot birdie putt on No. 14 and swiped the ball away in disappointment. He walked off with a stern look on his face.
He didn’t know it yet but halving that hole kept the cup in Europe’s hands.
Donaldson split the fairway with his drive on No. 15, leaving him with perfect yardage for a wedge to the green.
“I knew the crowd was gathering,” said Donaldson. “I knew things were coming down to my game. I was just trying to win my point.
“And it was the shot of my life.”
The noise was deafening as Donaldson marched to the green. U.S. captain Tom Watson shook Donaldson’s hand and then European counterpart Paul McGinley’s.
The Ryder Cup was effectively won – but it still needed Bradley to officially concede a 4-and-3 victory, which he did when he saw how close Donaldson’s ball was to the hole.
Donaldson was mobbed by McIlroy, then Henrik Stenson and then a sea of media who battled for a sight of Europe’s match-winner.
“Oh Jamie, Jamie,” the crowd sang.
“It’s hard to describe how good it is,” Donaldson said. “There’s nothing else like it in golf. It’s just a total one-off. It’s just a huge, huge thing, and it’s just been amazing to be a part of it.”