PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — With Lee Westwood, the No. 1-ranked player in the world, taking a pass on the Players Championship this week, No. 2-ranked Luke Donald is likely the favorite. Especially since Donald has played the best golf of anyone else in the last two months, ever since he won the Accenture World Match Play title.
Being the favorite is a new role for Donald, the Englishman who was one of the stars for Europe in last year’s Ryder Cup. I caught up with Donald on the eve of the Players for a light-hearted interview … and a surprise pop quiz.
I hope you’ve been enjoying 2011. You’re playing well.
It’s been a good year so far, thanks.
You’re involved in this Mizuno promotion. How does this work? I’m supposed to take my 6-iron to a participating dealer and compare it in a swing test to the Mizuno JPX800 6-iron? I’m told the Mizuno club will likely go 12 yards farther than mine. Apparently you’re unaware of my immense power.
That’s it, yes. Bring your 6-iron in and test it and you’re entered to win some prizes. On average the Mizuno has been about 12 and a half yards longer. The main prize, obviously, is a chance to play with me and Charles Howell in Atlanta around the Tour Championship. You can go to MizunoChallenge.com to get the details.
Is it true that second prize is 36 holes with you and Charles?
No, that would actually be better than first prize.
Why does this 6-iron go 12 yards farther than mine?
I actually tested it last year and I hit it farther, too. It’s the technology. The club has a very thin face—they’ve taken that to the boundaries of the limit. It’s great to see Mizuno doing game-improvement clubs in addition to the clubs they’re normally associated with for low handicaps and Tour players.
That’s a bit of a changeup.
Yeah, even back in the ’80s and ’90s, Mizuno was known as definitely the No. 1 iron on Tour when Nick Faldo was playing it. If you were a die-hard golf fan, you knew how good Mizuno irons were then. It’s the same on Tour now, they have a small stable of players and it’s nice to be included in that stable. It’s like part of a team, part of a family.
Where are we playing in Atlanta?
That’s to be determined. But it’ll be someplace good.
If I win, I get to bring a friend, assuming I have any, right?
Yeah, it’ll be a foursome—you and me and Charles and whomever you bring.
How worried are you that I might win and bring Johnny Miller?
I reckon I could take Johnny Miller. Hopefully you would bring some cash and we could play for some serious money.
I can definitely take Charles. Tell him I said that. I think I might be able to take you, too, with this special pop quiz I have prepared. All of the answers are somehow related to you. For starters, in what 1967 Paul Newman movie about prison life did George Kennedy win an Oscar for best supporting actor?
Um, yes. Why am I going blank? You’re putting me on the spot.
Because there’s pressure involved and you clearly can’t handle it, given that you’re nearly the No. 1 player in the world.
Cool Hand Luke.
Yes, Cool Hand Luke. Of course!
Which gospel of the Bible is the only one in which the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan are mentioned?
I’m guessing Luke?
That’s right. You’re catching on. Who shot 64 in his first-ever Masters round, shot 82 the next day and later that year lost the U.S. Open in an 18-hole playoff.
Oh, geez. Wait — Mike Donald?
Well done, sir. What’s the name of the daily newspaper published in Oshkosh, Wis.?
The Donald Express?
No. It’s The Northwestern. Like the college you attended.
Oh, I should’ve gotten that.
Well, not really. It’s Oshkosh, by gosh. Famous actor John Wayne once said, “Men join fraternities, leaders of men join — what?”
Sigma Chi. The Duke was a Sigma Chi guy, like you. Which leads to my next question — what do you, Adam Scott, Casey Martin and Bo Van Pelt have in common.
We’re all Sigma Chi brothers?
Correct. In what English town are the following secondary schools located: Adeyfield, Astley Cooper, Cavendish and Longdean?
Oh … Hemel Hempstead?
Your hometown, that’s right. What famous actor, who played The Saint on TV, among many other roles, lived in Tile Kiln Close, Leverstock Green and Hemel Hempstead in the 1960s? He was a big movie star from your hometown.
My hometown. Wow, I should know this shouldn’t I? You’re really making me sound like I don’t know much.
He also played James Bond in the movies.
At least I picked the right James Bond.
True or false, at Donald’s Famous Hot Dogs on Chicago’s South Side at Southwestern and W. 23rd, there’s a menu item named after you.
I have no idea. Hopefully, it’s true and I’m more famous than I actually know.
I don’t know the answer. But since you’ve never been there, I’m guessing the answer is no. I just had to include a place called Donald’s Famous Hot Dogs.
Well, I’m a North Sider in Chicago.
Here’s a real question: You can take a mulligan on any one golf shot in your career and do it over. Which shot do you do replay?
That’s a tough one. I’ve had a lot of second-place finishes, so there’s a lot to choose from. I don’t know. More recently, maybe I’d make the putt on 16 the last round at Hilton Head. But I try not to think in the past.
Good plan. What was the last painting you finished and when?
Well, it’s been a while. It was two years ago, during the time I was injured and had my wrist surgery. Luckily, it was my left wrist or I wouldn’t have done any painting.
What was the painting titled?
I don’t title my paintings until I plan on selling them, which I haven’t done yet. It was just an abstract piece with a lot of colored circles.
Well, you passed the quiz. Thanks for being a good sport.
I’m not sure why I went blank on Cool Hand Luke. Every other article about me uses that in the headline.
That movie was before your time, though. Sadly, it wasn’t before mine.