Illinois rules golf: Donald joins the club

Welcome to OK, here we go.

I’d like to thank Luke Donald for kicking off this inaugural post by winning Sunday in Match Play. His victory added to what has been an unprecedented run for golfers with Illinois connections.

Mark Wilson, who lives in Elmhurst, has two victories on the year. Illinois grad D.A. Points won at Pebble Beach. And  now Donald, the Northwestern alum and Northfield resident, joined the club Sunday in Tucson.

Let’s face it: Illinois is the hotbed for golf in 2011. Who’s next? Kevin Streelman? Perhaps Todd Hamilton can make a comeback. Heck, with the current state vibe, I probably could make the cut in a tournament.

OK, let’s not get carried away here.

Nobody needed that title more than Donald. He hadn’t won on the PGA Tour since 2006. The drought had him being labeled as an underachiever and worse. A critic came up with the term “Luke Donald Disease.” Definition: A golfer who is satisfied cashing paychecks and doesn’t push himself to win.

The jab hurt Donald deeply. The people who know him the best know how badly he wanted to win.

Yet when you go years without hoisting the big trophy, doubts set in. Even Sunday, when the 3-hole lead over Kaymer suddenly evaporated, NBC’s Johnny Miller started to wonder if Donald had what it takes to be a winner.

Donald answered the call, eventually putting away Kaymer on the back 9. At long last, he finally got to hold the trophy.

“To come here and compete against the best players in the world and win the trophy,” Donald said, “is very gratifying.”

I can’t recall when I’ve ever seen Donald play any better. He never trailed in any match, recording 32 birdies in 89 holes.

It could be the beginning of big things for Donald. Now that the pressure of winning is gone (at least for a while), perhaps it will allow him to go on to bigger and better things.

“The beginning of every year, I sit down and really try and think of ways I can create more opportunities and get more victories,” Donald said. “But it didn’t happen so much in the last few years.

“Hopefully getting past that stage of going a number of years without winning will open up the flood gates, as they say.”

As my buddy Joel says, “Looookkeeeee.”

One more thing: Not to knock Donald, but how in the world did he vault to No. 3 in the world rankings? He missed the cut in two of the four majors last year; he had three seconds and 7 top 10s in 20 starts on the PGA Tour in 2010. He did win in Madrid on the European Tour and had a couple of thirds in late-season, unofficial PGA Tour events.

Please tell me how that adds up to being ranked third in the world? I’ll never figure the world rankings.

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