Cool Hand Luke
The British tabloids, knowing a successor to Nick Faldo when they see one, have begun to dog Luke Donald, the 21-year-old sophomore at Northwestern who is TAKING U.S. BY STORM, as the Express put it in a recent headline. Last week Donald gave them more to crow about, winning the NCAA championship at Hazeltine National in Chaska, Minn., by three strokes over Georgia's Ryuji Imada.
Hazeltine's length and deep rough combined with four days of wind to send scores soaring, which made Donald's four-under total of 284 all the more impressive. Only two other players, Imada and Washington's Troy Kelly, finished under par. Champion Georgia's total of 28 over par was 62 strokes worse the 34 under UNLV fired to win in 1998.
Among the casualties at Hazel-tine was Edward Loar, Oklahoma State's No. 1 player, who in the opening round hit three balls into Lake Hazeltine on the par-4 16th hole on his way to a quintuple-bogey 9. His score of 10-over 82 was one better than that of Matt Kuchar, the Georgia Tech junior and 1997 U.S. Amateur champion, who shot 83-76. Kuchar's teammate Bryce Molder, the No. 1 player in the nation going into last week, shot 77-77. After winning the East Regional title by nine strokes the week before, the third-ranked Yellow Jackets shot a two-day total of 50 over par and missed the cut. "The problem is," said Georgia Tech coach Bruce Heppler, "there just aren't any birdie holes."
Not for Heppler's boys, anyway. His in-state neighbors from Athens, specifically fourth-ranked Imada, found a few, however. Imada made a 70-foot eagle putt on the 542-yard par-5 7th hole in Saturday's final round and fired a five-under 67—one shot off the course record and equal to the lowest score at the 1991 U.S. Open at Hazeltine—to lead the top-ranked Bulldogs to a three-stroke win over Oklahoma State. "[Imada] won the golf tournament for Georgia," said Cowboys sophomore Charles Howell, who played in the final group with Donald and the Bulldog sophomore and finished fifth. "That was a phenomenal round."
Imada, in fact, had a chance to become the first player to win both the individual and team titles in the same year since Phil Mickelson of Arizona State in 1990. Imada made up seven strokes on Donald in the first eight holes on Saturday, and the two of them reached the 14th tee tied at two under. The Englishman remained unflappable, however, and pulled away, sinking 15-and 25-foot birdie putts on the 14th and 15th holes, respectively. "He never stopped playing his game," said Northwestern coach Pat Goss. "I was more nervous than he was."
Donald's stroke average of 70.45 this season bettered Tiger Woods's 1996 NCAA mark of 70.61, which is just another reason British pundits expect big things from him. But though comparisons to Faldo seem inevitable, Donald appears to have a more multidimensional personality. Donald has done some abstract painting at Northwestern, and he has been known to amuse his mates by doing magic tricks. Last winter, while he putted and chipped for two hours a day, six days a week, in the Wildcats' 2,375-square-foot indoor short-game practice facility, he listened to Bach and Mozart on a Walkman. This pleases his father, Colin, and his mum, Ann, who are elated that their Luke, the youngest of their four children, has so many interests and that he'll continue to pursue them, at least for the next two years. "He'll stay in university," says Colin. "Not like Tiger."
Grace Park Turns Pro
Old Waverly's New Wave
A highly decorated amateur announced loud and clear at last week's U.S. Women's Open that she will be a force on the LPGA tour. But it wasn't Jenny Chuasiriporn, who in her first start as a pro missed the cut (77-74) by seven strokes. Rather, it was Grace Park, the freshly crowned NCAA champion from Arizona State, who flirted with the lead and the viewing public's attention last week at Old Waverly Country Club in West Point, Miss.
Park, who tied for eighth, declared on Monday that she will forgo her final two years of college, and a title defense at the U.S. Amateur in August, to turn pro. "I've played in LPGA events; I know I can play at the next level," says Park, 20, who averaged 263-3 yards off the tee and led the field in driving distance at Old Waverly. "My goal is to obtain my card without going to Q school next fall."