Luke Donald hasn’t won an event since the Transitions Championship in 2012 and has just four top-10 finishes in the last three years. Thus, you could be forgiven for forgetting he was the top-ranked golfer in the world as of the 2012 Bridgestone Invitational, and he held that position for 40 consecutive weeks during 2011-2012.
At 5’9’’, just over 160 pounds and rarely inside the top 150 in driving distance or the top 100 in swing speed, Luke Donald never looked like he had the raw materials to play with the big boys on Tour. And yet, with a combination of respectable driving, precise iron shots, and otherworldly putting, Donald was the top man in the golf world for a time.
In 2011, the Northwestern alum led the Tour in strokes gained: approach the green and strokes gained: putting. He was second in strokes gained: tee-to-green, first in strokes gained: total. He won twice that year on the PGA Tour, and once in 2012, but hasn’t raised a trophy since. And it’s not only surprising that Donald’s time in the sun lasted a couple of seasons, but that it took him 10 years to get to that point.
The Englishman was a steady cut-maker and had recorded a few solid finished in majors, but he was never really a contender, from the time he earned his PGA Tour card in 2001 until his breakout season in 2011. That year, Donald not only won twice on the PGA Tour that season, he also won the European Tour’s Race to Dubai, becoming the first player to top the money lists of both the PGA and European Tour in the same season.
During 2012, Luke Donald and Rory McIlroy exchanged the No. 1 spot several times. In the fullness of history, it’s unbelievable that McIlroy, who could stand as one of the greats of the game, was matched by Donald, a man with just five PGA Tour wins and no major championship.
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After holding onto the No. 1 ranking for much of 2012, Donald’s game was in disarray by the end of 2013. Desperate, he left his long-time coach Pat Goss and began working with Chuck Cook after missing out on the European Ryder Cup team. However, seeing little improvement by the end of 2014, Donald returned to working with Goss.
Indeed, Donald recorded just five top-10 finishes in 17 starts in 2013, and he hasn’t topped that number since. He fell outside the top 20 in the OWGR at the beginning of 2014 and hasn’t broken that barrier since. Prior to arriving at Harbour Town, the Englishman had missed three of five cuts to start 2017. He’s now the No. 94 golfer in the Official World Golf Ranking.
Now 39 years old, it’s hard to believe Donald was top golfer in the world just a few seasons ago. And yet, should he nab the plaid jacket this week, we’ll be reminded of the Hemel Hempstead native’s high-water mark.