Donald wins third straight tournament

Bernard Schwartz

Like a prophet who has lived to see the truth of his predictions, Northwestern golfer Scott Harrington related the exceptional play of teammate Luke Donald with uncanny familiarity.

“We knew his best was yet to come,” Harrington said. “It was just a matter of when.”

Rewind to earlier this spring, when the Northwestern men’s golf season was only three tournaments old. In those three events, Donald played above average by conventional standards. He had finishes of sixth, fourth and 11th during the months of February and March.

Then came April – and Donald didn’t lose.

His best had finally come.

And with his victory at this weekend’s Fossum Spartan Intercollegiate, Donald extended the winning streak to three.

A 7-under 64 in Sunday’s final round and a 54-hole total of 205 sealed the deal on Donald’s third straight victory – the 12th of his college career.

“I feel like I’m playing as well now as I’ve ever played,” Donald said. “I’m just going out there to win.”

And as Donald continued the streak, he was also able to lead his team to its first victory of the spring. The Cats shot a 1-under 851 over three rounds in East Lansing, Mich. Shooting scores of 278, 287, and 286, NU dominated the field, which included conference rival Minnesota. The Golden Gophers placed second – 10 strokes back of Donald and company.

Freshman Tom Johnson had predicted the Cats would wax their rivals to the north, and they did.

“It was a breakthrough for the team,” junior Chris Thayer said. “Even though it was against easier teams, you’ve got to do something that gets you that feeling again that you know how to win.”

The Fossum was the Cats’ last tournament before the Big Ten championships, and by placing three golfers in the top 10 they showed they’re ready for the postseason.

Thayer finished third after shooting a 64 in Saturday’s opening round, a tournament low and a personal best for him.

Johnson was NU’s other top-10 finisher. He tied for seventh place, firing rounds of 71, 70 and 74.

NU also placed freshmen T.C. Ford and Casey Strunk, who finished 45th and 74th, respectively.

But the big story once again was Donald, who refuses to lose. The 1999 NCAA champion beat the nation’s best at the Ford U.S. Collegiate Golf Championships at the beginning of April, and he hasn’t slowed down since.

“What he’s doing right now is amazing,” Thayer said. “You just know he’s going to play great. He’s got that attitude.”

After the Ford, Donald won the following week at the Kepler Intercollegiate and then again at this weekend’s Fossum – shooting a 54-hole total that was the third best in NU history.

“Luke knows how to win,” coach Pat Goss said. “And the ability he’s shown to shoot some real low numbers makes him tremendously tough to beat.”

Added Donald: “I’m definitely not afraid to shoot a few good scores and whip up on the field.”

Even Donald, a generally humble player, can’t hide the confidence this streak has him feeling. He knows things haven’t always been so good.

“I just needed that first win to get me started,” Donald said, “that one breakthrough to get my confidence up – to get me thinking that I should win every week.”

Having earned its first spring win, NU might be thinking that same thing as team.

And the kind of confidence a breakthrough win can provide couldn’t have come at a better time for the Cats, who have just one week until they travel down to Champaign to defend their conference crown.

“This win gives us a big edge,” Donald said. “It shows that we are the team to beat.”