The television analysts? They were confused.
But Luke Donald? Though his move was daring, he was clear.
And Phil Mickelson? He loved every bit of it.
“It was the right play. I feel ya captain,” the embattled six-time major champion wrote on Twitter, adding a thumbs-up emoji after the first sentence, and a sunglasses emoji after the second.
There’s a bit to unpack here, so we’ll start with the sequence itself. During Friday’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship second round, Donald was yards short of the green after two shots on the 534-yard par-5 2nd at Yas Links Abu Dhabi, and this year’s European Ryder Cup captain was pitching on his third stroke. Here’s where it got fun.
To the left of the hole, Donald’s caddie held the flag; his player was going to hit ‘blindly.’
“This is adventurous — pin out for Luke Donald,” an announcer on the Golf Channel broadcast said.
“I’m not sure why the pin was out there,” another announcer said. “Any reasons there?”
“Yeah, he’s crazy,” a third announcer said.
“He wouldn’t have been able to see the hole, would he?” the second analyst asked
“He’s not exactly the tallest, either, is he?” the third said.
Donald then hit just past the hole, his ball checked, and he had a 7-footer for birdie.
“That is a fantastic shot so maybe we should try blind chips to par-5s,” one announcer said on the broadcast.
“I have no idea, yeah,” another said.
So what gives? There was some method to the madness. Ahead of Donald on the 22-yard shot, the green sloped uphill for about three-quarters of the way, then sloped down, to the hole. Donald had decided to cover both slopes, though — and didn’t want anything to get in his way.
“There was a massive slope going down to the hole,” Donald wrote on Twitter, after the DP World Tour’s account shared a video of the shot and ensuing commentary. “I had to fly the ball all the way to the hole with spin for any chance of getting it close – didn’t want the chance it flew into the flag on the fly and pinged off 40 feet away.”
And two hours later, Mickelson approved. After a controversial 2022, the once-active social media commenter has kept mostly quiet, though he couldn’t help himself after the against-the-grain play, a Mickelson trademark.
After the pitch, Donald dropped the putt for a birdie. Despite a later sequence on Friday where he putted into a bunker, he’ll start Sunday’s final round six strokes back of leaders Francesco Molinari, Min Woo Lee and Shane Lowry.
“I actually came into this year with higher expectations than I had in a while just for my own game,” Donald said Thursday, after he opened with an eight-under 64. “You know when you’re swinging reasonably well. I feel like I’ve done some good work on my long game with Jamie Gough, and I’ve done some good work with my short game with Pat Goss. And to be honest, I feel like my game is in a pretty good spot.
“It’s not totally surprising that I shot 64 today. I went out there — again, last couple days, I’ve been hitting it nicely, swinging well, and it was nice to carry that on today.”