Luke Donald hits out of a bunker on the 11th hole during a U.S. Open practice… (Eric Gay / Associated Press )
Reporting from Bethesda, Md. — Luke Donald's life has not changed since he landed atop golf's world rankings. And that's fine with him.
"I don't really like the word 'change,' " he said, befitting a man whose swing instructor, Pat Goss, coached him at Northwestern from 1997 to 2001.
Other than receiving a call from Ralph Lauren — the man who designs his golf apparel — and a text message from Greg Norman, Donald's last two weeks have been status quo.
That makes sense, as Donald already is the third man to be ranked No. 1 this year after Martin Kaymer and Lee Westwood.
"Being No. 1 is a great achievement," Donald said, "but if you ask me, if I would swap that for Phil [Mickelson's] record, sure, I would love to take his [four] majors and the number of victories he has had."
Thanks to the USGA's desire for themed groupings, Donald will tee off Thursday with Kaymer and Westwood. Call it the "A Team."
Adding to the intrigue, Kaymer is using Donald's older brother Christian as his caddie. Luke employed Christian through the 2009 season, and Paul Casey recently dropped him.
"It's good to see that my brother got picked up again by one of the great players," Donald said. "All credit to what people think about him as a caddie."
Variation on a theme
The nagging question for Mickelson used to be when he finally would bring home a major title. Now it's when he will capture a U.S. Open.
Either way, the answer isn't much different.
"Just as when I was trying to win my first major," Mickelson said. "If you focus so much on winning, sometimes you can get in your own way. So I'm trying not to think about winning as much as I am trying to enjoy the challenge that lies ahead."
This will be his 21st U.S. Open. His five runner-up finishes are the most in Open history — all in the last 12 editions.
"If I play well," he said, "I know what it takes to be in contention here."
Sam Saunders' first U.S. Open comes with a special sense of pride — a berth earned strictly on accomplishment, without family connections.
The grandson of Arnold Palmer survived a three-for-two playoff for the final spots from sectional qualifying in Florida, shooting four under on the final nine to get into the shootout.
"I definitely made it hard on myself, but in the end that made it sweeter," Saunders said. "It's definitely the best feeling — a sense of satisfaction to know that I earned my way in here on my own. Now I want to make the most of it."
Alas, Congressional won't be graced with a Palmer sighting this week. He will monitor his grandson's progress from afar.
"Too many people here," Saunders said. "It'll be a lot easier for him" at home.
Buy for 2012
Tickets are on sale for the 2012 U.S. Open, set for San Francisco's Olympic Club. And this time, there's no lottery.
The U.S. Golf Assn. has opened an online-only purchase process, eliminating the random drawing for 30,000 tickets a day. Go to USGA.org/tickets for details or to place an order.
Mailed applications still will be accepted, but they will be subject to the same first-come, first-served system as online orders.