CHASKA, Minn. -- A year ago, Mike Donald was nearly at the top of his profession. He came within an inch of winning the U.S. Open at Medinah. But the birdie putt, on the 17th hole of a 19-hole playoff against Hale Irwin, rolled over the cup. Irwin won with a birdie two holes later.
A lot has happened to Donald since the Open, most of it bad, some of it tragic. Pearl Donald, who was close to her bachelor son, died of complications after heart surgery this year. Donald's game, which began to sour shortly after the Open, has deteriorated badly this year.
"I'm probably trying too hard," said Donald, who came here after missing the cut the previous two weeks and is 151st on the money list. "I think the Open showed me I could compete at a higher level, and it made me want to play better. I was trying to swing too perfect, instead of playing my game."
Donald said that the experience of coming close to winning the Open wasn't marred by losing it. "People are always trying to make it a negative," he said. "But the only thing negative was that I didn't win."
* At the opposite end of the confidence spectrum coming into the Open is Billy Andrade. After winning his first PGA Tour event two weeks ago at the Kemper Open, Andrade became the tour's first two-time champion this year with a victory at the Buick Classic.
"After I won at Westchester, a reporter told me that I have to be one of the favorites to win the Open," said Andrade, 27.
"I had to laugh. I was on 'Good Morning America' with Hale Irwin this morning, and I said that he has won more U.S. Opens than I have played."
In fact, Andrade's only appearance in an Open was a disaster. It happened three years ago at Brookline, Mass., where Andrade shot 79-74 and missed the cut. "It was embarrassing," said Andrade.
* Based on the practice rounds here this week, crowd control could be a problem. The crowds were large (an estimated 35,000) and enthusiastic.
It took Jack Nicklaus about 10 minutes to negotiate his way from the 17th green to 18th tee. "I only signed about 50 autographs," said Nicklaus. "I could have signed about 4,000."
* The USGA announced yesterday that it has awarded the 1993 Walker Cup to nearby Interlachen, the site of Bobby Jones' 1930 Open championship.
USGA president Grant Spaeth said there is a strong possibility of a 36-hole final day, rather than 18, at the Open's centennial event at Shinnecock Hills on Long Island in 1995. The USGA played under that setup through the 1964 Open at Congressional.
Speaking of Congressional, USGA officials indicated here that the 1995 Senior Open probably will be played at the Bethesda, Md., club, and that club officials have extended an invitation to the USGA for a future Open.
Facts and figures
Where: Hazeltine Golf Club, Chaska, Minn.
When: Today through Sunday (18-hole sudden-death playoff Monday if necessary).
Who: 156 golfers, including Jack Nicklaus, Masters champion Ian Woosnam, British Open champion Nick Faldo, Greg Norman, Seve Ballesteros and defending champion Hale Irwin.
How much: $1.3 million; $235,000 first prize.
TV: ESPN today and tomorrow (11 a.m.-3 p.m., 5 p.m.-7 p.m.). ABC, today and tomorrow (highlights, 11:30 p.m.-midnight); Saturday and Sunday, 1:30 p.m.-6 p.m.