U.S. Open preparation paying off for Donald

Northwestern grad sees dividends in first two rounds from work on distance control

Luke Donald on his "up and down" round.

ARDMORE, Pa. — Last week at his home course, Conway Farms in Lake Forest, Ill., Luke Donald got up from his lunch table after spotting Bulls big man Nazr Mohammed.

A mutual admiration society ensued, with Donald praising the Bulls for their "intensity" and Mohammed, a golf nut, mentioning he noticed the Northwestern alumnus on the United Center big screen during some games.

"Watch out for us next year," pledged Mohammed, a free agent who's confident he'll remain in Chicago.

Like the Bulls, Donald keeps waiting for his breakthrough. Despite having spent 56 weeks as the game's top-ranked player, he entered the U.S. Open 0-for-39 in majors.

"It always crosses your mind whether it's going to happen," Donald acknowledged before the tournament. "But you try to focus on positives, not why you haven't done something, and be confident that what I'm doing is the right thing."

His two-day score of even-par 140 — tied for third, one shot out of the lead — validates the hours he put in with his coach, Pat Goss, to prepare.

After they returned to Chicago's North Shore from a trip to Merion, Goss littered the Conway Farms range with cones. He lasered exact distances from 100 to 140 yards and 200 to 240 yards to hone in on distance control.

"I'm sure the members got tired of me going out on the range with different targets," Goss said Friday by telephone. "We set them up everywhere — middle, left, right."

So Goss took particular pleasure in seeing Donald stuff iron shots — and convert the birdies — on No. 3 (203 yards) and No. 9 (219) in his second round.

Donald also made a fluke birdie on No. 13 after air-mailing his approach on the 123-yard hole.

"Long was dead there," Donald said. "If that hadn't hit the hole, it was going 10 to 12 feet by. I made a mistake and got fortunate. But you need stuff like that to happen to get in position."

Yes, you need the roses to go with the weeds. And Donald had plenty of ugly in his second round.

How about four consecutive bogeys and five in a span of six holes? He drove into a hazard on No. 5 and burned the right edge on par putts on Nos. 6 and 7.

"They seem to be breaking a little bit more than I'm seeing," Donald said. "But you try not to panic in U.S. Opens."

Caddie John McLaren said he didn't have to say much to keep Donald on track after his midround bogey-fest dropped him from the top of the leaderboard.

"Luke has a wonderful temperament for golf," McLaren said. "He doesn't get too excited — and he definitely doesn't get too down on himself. He is very much a realist."

The reality is Donald's 2-over 72 in the second round gives him a terrific chance this weekend. The other reality is, for all the raves about his short game, Donald hasn't contended in nine U.S. Opens. His best finish, a tie for 12th at Winged Foot in 2006, came after an opening 78.

"In the early days I would have said the U.S. Open was his best chance to win a major," Goss said. "Then it became the Masters because he's such a good putter and has a great short game. And it does not put a premium on driving."

The U.S. Open puts a premium on everything — including distance control and patience.

tgreenstein@tribune.com

Twitter @TeddyGreenstein

 

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