SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Luke Donald carries the pride of England on his shoulders and big expectations as the world’s top-ranked golfer at the U.S. Open this week.
As Donald puts it, “there really aren’t too many advantages.”
Donald comes to The Olympic Club with six wins in the past 18 months, more than any other player. Lee Westwood is the only other player to be No. 1 without ever having won a major.
Not that Donald cares what people think — at least most people.
With Britain celebrating Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee, perhaps timing is on England’s side. Donald joked Tuesday that “hopefully I’m one of her favorites.”
“Not sure the Queen will be watching,” Donald said, drawing laughs in response to a curious British reporter’s question. “But who knows?”
Motivation will not be hard to find when Donald tees off.
He will play with Rory McIlroy and Westwood in the opening two rounds beginning Thursday. The configuration is part of the USGA’s plan to pin the world’s 1-2-3 ranked players together.
McIlroy also was throwing out the ceremonial first pitch Tuesday night at the San Francisco Giants-Houston Astros game at AT&T Park. There’s even a McIlroy bobblehead doll for fans.
Asked what the world’s No. 1 player had to do for a major league team to give away a promotional figurine of him, Donald said: “Probably win a U.S. Open by eight shots. Or at least by one.”
He was only half joking.
Nick Faldo, now a CBS commentator, was the last Englishman to win a major. He chased down Greg Norman at the 1996 Masters, and England has come up empty ever since.
For most of his career, Donald was regarded as a mild-mannered Englishman who won an NCAA title at Northwestern and majored in art. Now 34, Donald’s game evolved after he missed the second half of 2008 with a wrist injury brought on by trying to hit the ball farther.
In one of the tougher decisions, he decided to replace his brother as his caddie with John McLaren. Even more pivotal was bringing in Dave Alred, a performance guru from Britain who is famous for working with rugby players such as Jonny Wilkinson.
Winning has not been a problem for Donald in the past few years.
Donald birdied six straight holes to start the back nine Sunday last year at Disney, a clutch performance with historical significance. That win allowed him to become the first player to capture the money title on both sides of the Atlantic in the same season.
The title he still can’t seem to shed: One of the best to never win a major.
“Other than me personally using all the experiences that the tournaments that I’ve won that got me to No. 1, just using that confidence in my golf game. That’s the benefit, really,” Donald said. “The only other slight distraction, which is less so for me because I kind of go under the radar, is as a No. 1 ranked player, is that there’s more, a little bit more attention, a little bit more expectation.”