Donald Ready to Get Season Going


When Luke Donald tees off today at 7:16 a.m. in the Northern Trust Open with Adam Scott and Nick Watney he'll be making his debut on the PGA Tour. Donald knows the season is a long haul, but he's fired up and ready to go for the $6.6 million event.

Donald, who's coming up on his ninth straight month rated the No. 1 golfer in the world, will have a tough time beating his performance in 2011. Thanks to 14 top-10 finishes in 19 PGA starts, and 19 top-10s in 25 events in the U.S. and Europe, the Englishman became the first player in history to win the money titles on both the PGA and European tours. For that accomplishment and more, he was named the PGA Tour's Player of the Year.

But the 34-year-old knows that a pro golfer's meter resets to zero at the start of a new season. "I'm excited to start a new year," he said Wednesday from Riviera Country Club. "Obviously coming off my best year. I'm looking forward to - hoping to do something very similar to last year and even build on it."

"The reality is, it's always tough to follow a great year, tough to follow a great round with another great round," Donald said earlier this week in Arizona during a presser for the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.

"It's a challenge you always face. I'm trying to approach 2012 with a clean slate. I've got new goals and new opportunities, new things to achieve. I'll certainly take all the confidence I gained from last year and use that to my advantage," he said. "But I'm starting fresh this year."

On the eve of the Northern Trust Open, Donald met with reporters and discussed the state of his game as he enters the 2012 season.

MODERATOR: We'd like to welcome Luke Donald. You're making your first start in the U.S. on the PGA Tour here at the Northern Trust for the second year in a row. Want to talk about your game coming into this week and what you expect?

LUKE DONALD: Yeah, I'm excited to start a new year. Obviously coming off my best year. I'm looking forward to - hoping to do something very similar to last year and even build on it. Very excited about my game. I feel like I'm hitting the ball well, and always excited to be here at Riviera. I think it's one of the great classic courses that we play all year, and I just love playing this event.

Q. Obviously great year last year, but it didn't start so well here. Can you revisit what happened here last year, because you have had success here?

LUKE DONALD: Yeah, I have had some success here. Last year for whatever reason, maybe I was just a little bit tournament rusty. Last year I took a pretty long break. I took 11 weeks without playing a tournament, and that was planned because I really wanted to work on some stuff in my swing. Maybe I was just a little bit tournament rusty. I had a poor round on Friday, figured it out the next week what I was - it was just something a little bit off, and everything kind of clicked into place. You know, as I said, I think things happen for a reason, and I was able to realize that it was just an anomaly and put that behind me and knew that I'd been working hard, and obviously things turned around at the Match Play.

Q. You told a story late last year about how a few years ago your coach had asked you do you want to be No.1, and you had told him, looking at the life that Tiger leads and all the attention that comes with the ranking, you weren't so sure. What has changed, and can you just talk about your comfort level with all of the outside stuff that's come with your ranking?

LUKE DONALD: Well, yeah. This was a conversation I had with Jim Fannin, who I used to work with. We stopped working in 2007, I believe. But yeah, at that point I think just seeing all the hoopla and everything that went with - everything that went with Tiger and just the distractions and some of the issues of not having much privacy, that seemed tough for me at that point. Obviously Tiger is Tiger, and I think my situation is a little bit different. I think when Lee Westwood overtook when he got to the No.1 ranking, I was reasonably friendly with Lee and saw that his life really didn't change that much, I felt more comfortable that if I was to ever get to No.1, then a similar thing would happen with me.

Yeah, obviously since getting to No.1 in May, I've been able to hold onto it and felt very comfortable about it. I've had some success these last eight months as world No.1, and I enjoy it. Again, I've never really focused on trying to be No.1. I've always focused on trying to put myself into contention, give myself chances to win tournaments and win majors, and the ranking is just a process of some good play.

Q. You go through a pretty good travel schedule. You've already been over in Middle East. Do you adapt particularly well, the fact that you spend time in Europe? Do you have any tricks, and do you sort of look at a lot of the American golfers and wonder why they don't travel?

LUKE DONALD: Well, I understand why they don't. The U.S. Tour is a very good Tour. It offers a lot of different challenges against great fields, and you don't have to travel to obviously get great competition. But you know, as a European and someone that wants to play Ryder Cup, I play both Tours, and at some point I would love to play one year just concentrating on one Tour just to see how I do. But that's probably never going to happen because of my love for the Ryder Cup, and I feel allegiance to both Tours in a way. But it's not easy. You know, I think it's tough to kind of play a limited schedule on both Tours and deal with the time travel and all that kind of stuff.

Q. Do you have jet lag problems at all? Does it take you a long time to adapt? Some of these guys get off an airplane and they're fine.

LUKE DONALD: Sure, it does. I usually give myself a few days to get over that, and by the time I tee it up on Thursday I'm usually good to go.

Q. When is the last time you flew coach?

LUKE DONALD: Coach? I don't know, there's a few planes that don't have first class, right? Probably last year.

Q. You had said in the past that you always considered yourself a champion golfer, but after the phenomenal year you had last year, do you think other guys on the Tour look at you differently than they have perhaps or maybe other fans, and do you look at yourself differently after the phenomenal year you had last year?

LUKE DONALD: I'm not really sure. I think the only thing that might have changed some people's perception is the fact that with my game that I was able to get to No.1 not being a modern day power player, and I think perhaps that might have changed people's perspective on how they practice and what they need to work on. I've obviously done a great job with being very proficient with the short game. That can get you a long way. I certainly am not the best ball striker. I'm not the best off the tee. But with a good short game, I was able to get to the top of the World Rankings. Maybe that influenced some of the way people practiced.

Q. I was going to ask you if there had ever been a time in your career where in order to try to get more distance you had gotten maybe out of your element a little bit, and what were the consequences of that, and how did you get back to the game that you play now?

LUKE DONALD: Absolutely, that certainly happened. I think around end of 2006, 2007. And who knows, that might have led to my wrist surgery, wrist injury that I had in 2008. I've said this many times: I got to a point where I was trying to hit the ball too hard, and I think it got my swing into a bad position, and it's taken a good couple years since that wrist surgery to get it into a place where I feel a bit more comfortable. I'm starting to control the ball off the tee a little bit better, hitting a lot more greens, more fairways. I'm really just playing within myself. I'm doing some work in the gym obviously to try and create speed in my swing, but by getting my swing in better positions, that's also helping. You know, it's been a long process, but I'm starting to see the results come.

Q. You had said that you do a lot of your tweaking early on in the season. You also played some new clubs in Abu Dhabi. Are those going to stay in? What are you going to play this week, and what kind of tweaks have you made to refine your game for this year?

LUKE DONALD: Yeah. You know, it's a busy, long year, and I think it's almost impossible to really make any significant swing changes throughout a year. When you have a week off, two weeks off maybe, that's just not long enough to really engrain any swing changes. So you know, the off season is important for me. I spend some time really working on certain fundamentals in my swing, and that's an important time for me. It was really beneficial last year. I did a similar thing this year, slightly curtailed because of the week in Abu Dhabi, but yeah, I'm still playing the MP 59s. They feel very good, very solid. I feel like I have good control of them. I can move them around both ways, and I'm very happy with them.

Q. I know a lot of the young players in the U.S. have been criticized for being too swing conscious, too distance conscious and sort of neglecting and not practicing the short game perhaps as much as they should. Did you learn the short game first when you were developing as a player and then everything came off of that? Is that how that developed?

LUKE DONALD: I think as a young kid growing up I just loved to practice the short game. I think that's where it started. But even tracing back to after the wrist injury, that was the first thing that I could do. I could start putting, and then suddenly I could hit a few chip shots, and I built it up. That's very similar how scoring is. I always believe that scoring starts from the hole backwards. If you can focus on that a lot, that's going to be a key. That's going to be a key this week with these greens, too.

Q. Your pursuit of history last year was not monomaniacal. You had a couple outside distractions, one bad, one good. How do you explain how you were able to deal with your dad's death, the birth of your second child and still kind of keep your eye on your goal?

LUKE DONALD: Obviously a decent amount of my work had already been done. I had had a great season up until that point. You know, and in a way those couple weeks were very tough. I think the birth of my second daughter helped shed a little bit of grace on the whole situation. It helped with the passing of my father. You know, and I think I came out of it a stronger person with a little bit more perspective. I think that always helps no matter what you're trying to do in life; with a bit more perspective, things become a bit easier. The golf, as important as it is to me, it's still a game. You know, obviously that little bit of adjustment in mindset sometimes can help.

Q. You talked about swing changes in the off season. After the year you had last year, are you just tempted to not do anything, just say, I'll have a repeat of that? When you've had a historic year like that, is it hard to make yourself want to do something different?

LUKE DONALD: Well, I wouldn't call it swing changes, I would just call it swing improvements. These are small little increment improvements. Again, I'm not trying to make radical, massive improvements, but I'm constantly trying to improve and get a little bit better. It's not necessarily a change. I don't really like the word change. But just trying to tweak everything to get 1 percent better. It's the same throughout the bag, whether it's driving, irons, wedge play, putting. That's all my goal is every year.

Q. What's been the best part about being No.1, and what's been the worst part?

LUKE DONALD: I think the best part of being No.1 is knowing that my best golf is good enough to get me to that No.1 spot, just from a confidence and mental standpoint. That's gratifying to know that the hard work is paying off and that my best golf is good enough to get me to No.1. The worst part? You know, I suppose the slight added burden of expectation. But I felt like I've dealt with that pretty well so far.

Q. A couple of years ago, talking to Justin Rose, he was talking about being caught between two worlds. He missed the tea and things like that. You've been in this country long enough, going to school here, and yet do you feel like I'm still an Englishman, out of sorts a little bit, or either side is fine? After growing up there and then living here, how do you look at it?

LUKE DONALD: I don't feel out of sorts. I feel very comfortable living here. I've lived here almost as long as I lived in England now. I was 19 when I left there. I've been here 15 years now. You know, this is where I've made my home and where I've made my life, and I feel very comfortable with that. But I still consider myself British.

Q. Do you miss anything particularly from that country to this country? I mentioned Justin talked about having tea after lunch or something like that.

LUKE DONALD: Yeah, I miss roundabouts. Too many stoplights here. Roundabouts is the way forward. It's much better for traffic.

Q. They've got one on 26th.

LUKE DONALD: They need a lot in this town.

Q. I don't know how many years ago it was, but you came in here at this tournament after a round and were talking about how you really thought you could be a top 10 player. I don't know if a lot of people in the room had as much belief in that as you did. Do you remember what your game was like back then and the path to being a top 10 player and how difficult it seemed at that point?

LUKE DONALD: You know, a top 10 - I don't know when I was saying that. But I think my inner belief has always been pretty strong. I've always kind of felt like I've had the opportunity. I felt like I've always had a solid game, built around a good short game. As I said, it's gratifying to know that having years like last year, that's good enough to get me to No.1. I feel like every year I'm improving, and that's all I'm trying to do.

MODERATOR: Thanks a lot, Luke. Good luck this week.

The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.


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