Commentary

Familiar territory for Luke Donald

Updated: September 10, 2013, 7:14 PM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- His passport is British, but his home now is in the United States, specifically Chicago, and if that seems odd for a professional golfer, then Luke Donald can tell you something about a few courses in the Windy City.

His 20-minute drive to Conway Farms, site of this week's BMW Championship, is one Donald has made numerous times over the years, as he's been a member at the club for more than a decade. And he considers it a bit of good fortune that the Western Golf Association decided to move its tournament here for 2013.

"I guess if there was ever a year to struggle, to come into an event needing a big week, this is a good one to come to," said Donald, 35, who has not won this year and has slipped to 13th in the world. "Obviously, it's a course I'm very familiar with. I've been a member here for the last 10, 12 years and played here during my time at Northwestern [University].

[+] EnlargeDonald
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesLuke Donald has been a member at Conway Farms Golf Club for more than a decade. The course hosts the PGA Tour for the first time this week in the BMW Championship.

"Obviously, it was never set up in tournament conditions, but [I] certainly have a lot more familiarity than most of the players who [are] probably seeing it for the first time today. And hopefully it's an advantage for me. I certainly need a big week, and looking forward to being the semi-host, I suppose, this week."

The BMW Championship, formerly the Western Open, is the third of four FedEx Cup playoff events, with the top 70 players competing this week with no cut. Only the top 30 after Sunday's final round will advance to next week's Tour Championship in Atlanta, where a big bonus pool, including $10 million to the winner of the FedEx Cup, will be offered.

To get there, Donald has some work to do. He is a surprising 54th in the FedEx Cup standings and probably needs to finish no worse than 10th this week to advance, with a top-5 finish likely needed to secure a trip to Atlanta.

Just two years ago, Donald was doing something never before accomplished -- winning the money titles on both the PGA Tour and European Tour. He moved to No. 1 in the world and was in that position as late as the 2012 PGA Championship, where he was surpassed by Rory McIlroy.

Donald was No. 3 in the world heading to his first PGA Tour event this year in February, but has dropped to 13th after a run of bad form this summer. Donald was in contention at the U.S. Open, where he played the final round with eventual winner Justin Rose, and tied for eighth.

But since then, he missed cuts at the Open Championship, Canadian Open and PGA Championship. At the first two playoff events, the Barclays and Deutsche Bank Championship, he tied for 41st in each.

"For someone who was at the pinnacle of the game not too long ago and is now 54th in the FedEx Cup ... it's been disappointing," Donald said Tuesday at Conway Farms. "It's been frustrating at times, and I've had to make some tough decisions in terms of changing my swing coach. It's been a bit of a distraction because of some of those things.

"A light went on in my head when I played with Justin on Sunday of the U.S. Open. I was just very impressed with his ballstriking, and I felt like major championships, if you want to win them and be consistent and have chances to win them, there's a little bit more of a premium on tee to green at majors than most weeks. ... I just feel like I needed to get a little bit more consistency in my game."

That meant a tough phone call to Pat Goss, the golf coach at Northwestern where Donald played collegiately and his main instructor for the past 16 years.

"I jokingly told my wife when Luke had said he wanted to talk about his game, I said I'm going to get fired," Goss said Tuesday from another Chicago area course, Olympia Fields, where he was with the Northwestern golf team. "Obviously, it was disappointing for me. Luke has meant a lot to me. It's been an incredible investment for me for 16 years.

"But I completely understand. I want the best for him, his future and his game. I sensed the last year or so that he lost faith in what we were doing. You could tell he was wavering. He didn't have the singular focus on the things we were doing, and in that sense he lost confidence."

Donald first sought out Sean Foley, who works with Rose, Tiger Woods, Hunter Mahan and Lee Westwood. Foley declined because he didn't feel he could give Donald the attention he deserved.

But Foley recommended Chuck Cook, a longtime swing instructor who most notably works with PGA champion Jason Dufner but also guided the likes of Payne Stewart, Corey Pavin, Tom Kite and Mark Brooks to major titles.

"I talked with him at Firestone [the Bridgestone Invitational] and we started working at the PGA for the first time," Donald said. "So far, I really have enjoyed what we've been working on."

Goss, who is a short-game instructor for PGA Tour pros Gary Woodland and Trevor Immelman, will continue to work with Donald on that aspect of his game and calls Donald's move "a big risk. History has shown it's not easy after working with one teacher for such a long time. I didn't agree with it; I absolutely thought I could do the job, and I'm proud of the work we did. But I understand what he is doing and respect it."

Donald, who admitted he is not making small changes, at least has some home-course knowledge to fall back on this week. Conway Farms got the nod when Cog Hill -- which had been home to the Western Open from 1991 through the start of the BMW Championship in 2007 -- fell out of favor.

Last year the tournament was played at Crooked Stick near Indianapolis, and next year the event will go to Cherry Hills in Denver, with nothing official beyond that.

For now, the top players in the FedEx Cup will chase a big purse on a course that is largely unfamiliar to them.

"It's nice to see this tournament come here, and it's pretty amazing to see the progression, how it's going from nothing to what it is now," Donald said. "And it's good to have it here at a course that's very fond for me."

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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