First it was Elmhurst’s Mark Wilson winning two of the first three full-field events of the PGA Tour season. Then it was University of Illinois alum D.A. Points capturing the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. Now still another local golfer has come to the forefront.
Luke Donald, who graduated from Northwestern in 1999 and has maintained strong Chicago ties, won the biggest tournament of the season so far on Sunday with a dominating performance at the Accenture Match Play Championship near Tucson, Ariz.
Donald, playing in only his second tournament of the year, whipped Germany’s Martin Kaymer, the world’s No. 1-ranked player, 3 and 2 in the final. Kaymer was Donald’s sixth victim in the five-day event. Donald never trailed in any match. He played only 73 holes en route to winning his six matches, none of which went to the 18th hole. Along the way he made 32 birdies.
“It was a long time since I won in the U.S., and to beat the top 63 players in the world was gratifying,” said Donald. “It was an amazing week.”
That is was.
Donald, born in England, won in the U.S. for the first time since taking the 2006 Honda Classic. He’ll be in the field when that event tees off on Thursday in Orlando, Fla.
In 2010 Donald, in addition to playing in the Ryder Cup matches, became a father for the first time, won at Madrid on the European PGA Tour and finished in the top 10 in 14 of his 28 tournaments world-wide. No golfer won more money than Donald in 2010, if his winnings in both the U.S. and Europe are combined.
That busy season led to Donald taking 11 weeks off, his longest break in seven years. His first tournament of this season, the Northern Trust Open in Los Angeles, ended quickly when he shot 79 in the second round to miss the cut. There was no carryover last week in the first of the four World Golf Championship events, which draw international fields and rank just below the four major tournaments in importance.
Though it was played on a 7,800-yard course, and Donald isn’t one of golf’s longer hitters, he was barely challenged in his matches. The victory lifted him from No. 9 in the world all the up to No. 3.
“ Whether I deserve to be No. 3 in the world, I don’t know,” said Donald. “But certainly in terms of my work ethic and wanting it, then I do deserve it. I’ve been very diligent about working on my short game. There’s room for improvement with my game off the tee and some of my iron play, if you look at my statistics, but I make up for it around the greens.”
Donald and his wife Diane, who also attended Northwestern, have a residence in Orlando but still consider Chicago their home. Their daughter Elle celebrated her first birthday while Luke was en route to winning at Tucson and Pat Goss, his head coach at NU, has remained Donald’s swing coach since he turned pro in 2001.
Prior to Sunday Donald’s most prominent move into U.S. tournament contention came at the 2006 PGA Championship at Medinah. He was paired with eventual winner Tiger Woods in the final group on Sunday but shot 74 and finished tied for third.
“It was interesting to see how (Woods) worked his way around the golf course. He was always in control of his game and didn’t push things,” said Donald. “He made other people make mistakes. That’s what I learned watching Tiger. You don’t have to do anything too spectacular. You just have to do things pretty well.”