March 13, 2006
(Story courtesy of PGATOUR.com, Helen Ross, Chief of Correspondents)
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- When Luke Donald won his first PGA TOUR event four years ago, he was sitting in the locker room at Annandale Golf Club.
Heavy rain was falling outside as tournament officials walked in with the news that the final round of the Southern Farm Bureau Classic was canceled. The word anticlimactic doesn't really do the scene justice.
"They said, `The course is far too wet, we just can't play and that's it. Luke Donald is the winner,'" the 28-year-old Englishman recalled. He was happy, of course, but he never got to enjoy that triumphant walk down the 18th fairway or a tip of the hat to the cheering crowd.
So when Donald got the chance to win again on Sunday, he made sure it was memorable -- staking a 5-iron on the 72nd hole at the Sunrise Course to 4 feet for a closing birdie and a two-stroke win over Geoff Ogilvy at The Honda Classic.
The victory elevated Donald to a career-best No. 10 in the official World Golf ranking.
"It's very different," Donald said. "It's a strange feeling when they tell you you've won even though you haven't played the fourth round. This one, obviously, is more rewarding with all the hard work that I've put in the last couple of years.
"And to finish that strongly, and to finish it off in style, means a lot to me."
Donald's victory was greeted warmly in this south Florida community where he now has a home. He hugged his brother Christian, who has caddied for him since 2001, and kissed his girlfriend, Diane Antonopoulos, by the side of the green.
"He never felt (the first win) was a proper one," Christian said, the family pride evident in his voice and broad smile. "This will be really good for his confidence."
As Donald walked to the scoring trailer, the Northwestern grad high-fived a fraternity brother sporting a tee-shirt with a Union Jack on the front and "Luke for King" on the back. Minutes earlier, the same wardrobe-challenged man who completed his outfit with a purple hat and blue plaid Bermuda shorts had leapt into the air, arms outstretched and led the cheers as the ball settled safely by the pin.
Also in the crowd of well-wishers was a former Wildcat teammate, Jess Daley, this week playing host to Jeff Gove, who had started the final round one stroke behind Donald and Billy Mayfair. Donald was the best man in Daley's wedding and the two remain close friends.
No doubt Donald will be hearing from Jack Nicklaus soon, too. The two share a sponsor, RBS, and Nicklaus offered Donald a membership at The Bear's Club when he decided to move nearby. Not to mention, Nicklaus' wife, Barbara, heads the foundation that will benefit from next year's Honda Classic when it moves across the street to PGA National.
The victory added to a growing resume that includes two European Tour wins, a Ryder Cup appearance and last year's Target World Challenge title. Donald entered The Honda Classic ranked 12th in the Official World Golf Ranking and very well may have reached the top-10 when the new list is released on Monday.
"The next step goal is to win majors," said Donald, who tied for second at THE PLAYERS Championship last year and shared third at the Masters. "Do I think I can win majors? Absolutely. I think I have a great game for the majors.
"I'm very steady, and that's the main reason why I think if I keep playing the way I've been playing, there's no reason why I can't strive to be the best player in the world. If I can compete and win majors, then surely I can be the best player in the world."
Christian, who left his job as a club professional to caddy for Luke, said he always knew his younger brother would be a great player. The two began playing golf as teenagers when their parents bought a time share on a course in southern Spain.
"He's just a little different than the rest of us three," said Christian, who noted that the two always used to joke as kids that he'd start caddying when Luke became famous. "Our mother even said that when he was born."
Donald was a three-time All-American at Northwestern where he won the Fred Haskins Award and Jack Nicklaus Award as the nation's top collegiate player. He felt his game was best suited to American courses so he decided to give the PGA TOUR a try, making it through q-school on his first attempt. The Southern Farm Bureau Classic win that came in his rookie season was further evidence the decision was the right one.
Two wins on the European Tour in 2004 earned Donald a spot on his first European Ryder Cup team. And Sunday's win at The Honda Classic -- and the all-important world ranking points that go with it -- will give Donald a leg up on another berth for the matches that will be played in September at the K Club outside Dublin.
"The Ryder Cup was some of the most pressure I had ever felt," said Donald, who went 2-1-1 in his debut. "And any time you can play in that pressure and experience it and come out on the other side, it's good for you as a player. You definitely draw off that kind of experience when the pressure is on."
Sunday was a day to do just that. Although outwardly calm, Donald needed to summon up all the resolve he could muster on the back nine at the Country Club of Mirasol. As he made the turn, Donald had lost sole possession of the lead he had built with birdies on two of his first four holes.
Donald continued to do the things he does best, though. He ranked first in proximity to the hole, second in fairways hit and fourth in greens in regulation. And he sealed the victory when he one-putted the final six holes, three of them for birdies.
"He's been solid all week," Christian said. "He had a bit of a scary moment in the middle, but he got it back together. In the past he's sometimes had a tendency to try too hard. He just needed to play his own game."
"(I just told myself) to regroup, really,' Donald said, agreeing with his brother. "Just play every shot as it comes and play the golf that I know I can play. That was it, really."