LAKE FOREST, Illinois (Reuters) - Luke Donald could not have hand-picked a more suitable venue for this week’s BMW Championship as he aims to end what has been a disappointing season, by his lofty standards, with a flourish.
Winless since he clinched his first victory on the Japan Golf Tour at the Dunlop Phoenix in November, Donald knows the par-71 layout at Conway Farms Golf Club better than anyone else in the field, having been a member here for more than a decade.
“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,” the Chicago-based Englishman told reporters while preparing for Thursday’s opening round.
“Obviously it’s a course I’m very familiar with. I’ve been a member here for the last 10, 12 years and I played here during my time at Northwestern,” said former world number one Donald, referring to his university days.
“Certainly I have a lot more familiarity than most of the players ... and hopefully that’s an advantage for me. I certainly need a big week, and I’m looking forward to being the semi-host, I suppose.”
Donald is precariously placed going into the third of the PGA Tour’s four FedExCup playoff events, lying 54th in the standings, and needs to climb into the top 30 this week to qualify for the season-ending Tour Championship in Atlanta.
A five-times winner on the PGA Tour, Donald has been an ever-present figure at the Tour Championship since 2009 but now finds himself in unfamiliar territory after recording just four top-10s in 15 starts on the U.S. circuit this year.
“For someone who was at the pinnacle of the game not too long ago and is now 54th on the FedExCup, it’s been disappointing,” said Donald, who was player of the year on both sides of the Atlantic in 2011.
“It’s been very hard this year. It’s been frustrating at times, and I’ve had to make some tough decisions in terms of changing swing coach. It’s been a bit of a distraction because of some of those things.
“But I feel pretty good about where things are headed. This year I still have time to rescue it. I’m going to have to do that this week, and that’s the beauty of the FedExCup. It takes one good week to kind of rescue a year.”
Having spent his entire professional career with swing coach Pat Goss, the man who recruited him and brought him to Northwestern in the late 1990s, Donald has decided to try someone new as he seeks to achieve more consistency in his game.
Though he will continue to use Goss as his mentor and short game guru, Donald is now working with swing coach Chuck Cook.
“It doesn’t matter how good you are at short game; if you’re not hitting enough fairways and not hitting enough greens at majors, you just can’t win them,” Donald said.
“I have a little bit of an old-fashioned swing where I use my hands a bit too much and don’t rely on just the bigger muscles, which is what Chuck is trying to get me to do. Hopefully that will lead to more consistency tee-to-green.”
While Donald is already happy with the change, he found it very difficult to part company with Goss as his long-time swing coach.
“Outside of telling my brother (Christian) I didn’t want him to caddie for me anymore, it was probably the second toughest decision I’ve ever had to make on the golf course,” said Donald.
“I’ve had a lot of success with Pat. I got to No. 1 and certainly would never take anything away from what we did together. It’s just one of those things that was very tough but I felt like I had to do.”
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Frank Pingue