Luke Donald Great Expectations

By Mercer BaggsJuly 13, 2005, 4:00 pm
The 2:47 a.m. ET tee time for the opening round of the 134th Open Championship:
Jack Nicklaus: 73 PGA Tour victories; 18 major championship victories; three Open Championship victories.
Luke Donald
Luke Donald will have a huge following Thursday and Friday, playing alongside Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson.
Tom Watson: 39 PGA Tour victories; eight major championship victories; five Open Championship victories.
Luke Donald: 2002 Southern Farm Bureau winner; one top-10 in a major; five missed cuts in five Open Championship appearances.
This may be the easiest game ever of 'Which of these three does not belong?'
This may be the closest that Donald ever gets to being lumped in with Nicklaus and Watson. But many in and around the game expect great things from the 27-year-old Englishman.
Those great expectations were cast on him before he ever turned professional. He twice led Great Britain & Ireland to victory in the Walker Cup, going 7-1 over the two competitions. He was a three-time All-America selection at Northwestern University, and the NCAA champion and top collegiate player in 1999.
I was one of the best players in college. And I came to the PGA Tour and just played OK, but was getting beaten a lot, every week for a couple of years, and wasnt really breaking through the way I imagined it, Donald said Wednesday on the eve of the Open.
And that affects your confidence a little bit.
Donald has encountered some success in the professional ranks, including a win in his rookie season on the PGA Tour. But it wasnt until last year that he began to resemble the Luke Donald that everyone envisioned.
Donald didnt win in the U.S., but he did pick up a pair of titles on the European Tour, which helped land him a spot on his first Ryder Cup team ' a victorious Ryder Cup team.
This year, though he has thus far taken the collar in the States, he has performed quite well in the top-tier tournaments.
Donald was runner-up at The Players Championship, where he held the 54-hole lead. He then tied for third at the Masters for his first top-10 in a major. He was four off the 36-hole pace at the U.S. Open, before a 74-80 finish sent him tumbling down the leaderboard.
His increased presence during the majors ' and the semi-major, combined with his amateur pedigree ' and the fact that England is longing for its next Nick Faldo ' equal a revival of those great expectations.
I dont really feel pressure. Obviously, theres a little bit more expectation on players like myself. Ive played well this year, he said.
I feel in the last couple of years, the limelight has been more on me, especially this last year. I think that just comes with the territory of playing well and moving up the world rankings.
Donald is currently the top-ranked Englishman in the world at 15th on the Official World Golf Ranking, which makes him one of the favorites this week to be the first European-born player since Paul Lawrie at this event in 1999 to win a major championship.
Then again, theres the matter of his dubious record in this championship.
Obviously, its not good at all. But (it's) something Im not thinking about this week, he said. I feel like Im a different player now. Im not coming here just to make the cut; Im coming here to win this championship.
The way Ive been playing the last couple of years is quite different than the years before that. I feel like Im a stronger player; I feel more confident. I feel like I can deal with these situations better ' major championships.
Donald, who employs a sports performance coach to help him on the mental aspects of the being a professional athlete, may be an Englishman, but hes certainly one who has been Americanized.
He still resides in the Chicago area, following his four-year stint at Northwestern.
Links golf ' as if his Open record didnt give it away ' is not his specialty.
The British Open is a little bit different kettle of fish, because we dont play very many links courses during the season. Its really the only tournament where we play a completely different golf course, he said.
I grew up playing some links golf, but Ive been over (in America) so much that my game is pretty much adapted to the U.S. style.
But if there is one Open venue where Donald feels some sort of comfort zone, its the Old Course at St. Andrews.
Thats probably the most familiar course of all the Open rotation courses. Ive played there a number of times, he said. I played it last year at the Dunhill Links. Ive played it in 2000 when the Open was back there, and Ive played a Palmer Cup there. I played the St. Andrews Links Trophy there, so Ive played it a lot more than any of the British Open courses.
Familiarity isnt the only thing that makes for a 15th club in his bag. He feels hes also hit that point in the learning curve where he can actually apply his past failures to help achieve success.
I feel link Im going to play my own game this week. Unless the conditions get so severe, so windy, you dont really need to adapt your game too much, he said. Maybe in the past Ive tried to adapt my game too much ' working on pitch and runs, and long putts from off the green, and that kind of stuff. I think if I can play to my strengths then Ill be well suited around here.
Donalds new approach will be put the test Thursday morning. And so will his nerves, as he plays alongside two Hall of Fame members. One of those legends has won more Open titles than anyone else in the field. And the other is the greatest major champion of all, who is making his last tour in this championship.
I think it was Ernie (Els) or someone told me that I might have to bring earplugs, because theres going to be a lot of applause, a lot of clapping ' something different than what Ive probably ever experienced, said Donald, who was grouped with Els in last year's Open and with Tiger Woods two years ago.
But hopefully I can use the vibes from the crowd to motivate myself and play ' use their kind of energy to spur me one. Hopefully.
Donald may never find himself in the same category as a Nicklaus or a Watson. But he feels like hes ready to join today's elite crowd.
I feel a lot more confident, and playing well breeds more confidence, he said. I feel like I belong with the top guys now.
Email your thoughts to Mercer Baggs
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - 134th Open Champoinship
  • Daily Photo Gallery
  • Open Championship Trivia Challenge
  • Getty Images

    McCoy earns medalist honors at Q-School

    By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 am

    One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Tour Q-School.

    McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.

    It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.

    McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).

    Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).

    Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.

    Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award

    By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 11:41 pm

    The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

    The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.

    Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.

    The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

    A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.

    Getty Images

    Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4

    By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 8:57 pm

    Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.

    Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.

    South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.

    Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.

    The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.



    Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout

    By Will GrayDecember 10, 2017, 8:55 pm

    It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.

    Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.

    Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.

    "We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."

    Full-field scores from the QBE Shootout

    Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.

    Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.