- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Five hundred thirty words lay out the formula to determine the world’s top golfer. Pull out a slide rule and bottle of Tylenol, because you need to look at events from 12 tours and determine the ranking points awarded for each event — more for majors and other select events, of course — relative to the strength of the field based on the number of players in the top 200 … and hundreds more words.

But, really, there are only three things you need to know about the man the numbers insist plays golf better than anyone on the planet.

Fifteen players have ranked been No. 1 in the 24-year existence of the Official World Golf Rankings.

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One of those, Tiger Woods, held the spot for 623 weeks.

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Luke Donald celebrates with the European PGA trophy after winning the tournament in Wentsworth, England. The victory May 29 made him the world's top-ranked golfer.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Luke Donald celebrates with the European PGA trophy after winning ... more >

And the latest, No. 1 for the past two weeks entering Thursday’s first round of the U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club, is a slender Englishman named Luke Donald.

Blond hair spills out of his visor. He stands 5-foot-9 and majored in art theory at Northwestern University. The ball doesn’t go into orbit when he hits it. He’s thoughtful answering questions. Reaching No. 1 wasn’t a goal, never something he even thought much about. Every day, he writes goals and accomplishments in his performance diary. He can be impatient. He may have the world’s top short game. To improve his mental preparation, he employs a man who touts himself as the world’s best kicking coach. Jack Nicklaus called Donald the hardest worker in golf.

A formula can’t explain Donald’s rise. The answer, instead, starts when last season ended. Eleven weeks changed his career’s equation. Donald did something unusual: He stopped playing golf.

For seven weeks, he didn’t pick up a club. The last four weeks he worked with Pat Goss, his coach since 1997 at Northwestern. Donald won the NCAA men’s title there in 1999. They tried to reduce the level of expectation and tinkered with Donald’s swing. Most importantly, Donald retreated from the crucible of weekly competition. Time jetted by.

“It was incredibly important and valuable,” Goss said. “It took a lot of courage and belief to do that.”

Added Ben Shear, who oversees Donald’s strength and conditioning: “In the past, he’s had a lot of success, but probably didn’t feel like he achieved everything he wanted to. We sat down with his coach and his mental guy and said, ‘Let’s put a plan together. Let’s leave no stone unturned.’ “

Goss stopped attending Donald’s majors and won’t be at the U.S. Open. Too much of a circus. The coach didn’t want to add to the chaos and be a distraction. But he still coaches Northwestern. So, when Donald edged Lee Westwood in a playoff at the BMW PGA Championship at the Wentworth Club, Goss got updates in an airport. The May 11 match thrust Donald to No. 1.

The time off transformed him. Sure, he was consistent, finishing in the top 25 of 103 of 207 events. The money flowed in, too, over $20 million on the PGA Tour and 10 million Euros (about $14 million) from the European Tour. But this season, he has 10 straight top-10 finishes.

Those numbers come without booming drives down fairways. At the Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio, two weeks ago, Phil Mickelson stepped up to a microphone for a quick post-round interview. The microphone only reached the 6-foot-3 Mickelson’s chest.

Luke Donald is here,” Mickelson said, then chuckled. “He’s the No. 1 player in the world. I’ve got to bust his chops.”

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