MEDINAH, Ill. – The Ryder Cup comes to Chicago for the first time, and it’s only fitting that the Windy City can claim one of the players as its own.
Luke Donald spent four years at Northwestern, winning an NCAA title and graduating with a degree in art. He married a local girl and never found reason to settle anywhere else. He lives on the North Side and suffers annually with Cubs fans. After the Ryder Cup, he and his wife will pick apples in the country for her birthday.
There’s only one catch — Donald is English.
The only “hometown” player in this Ryder Cup will be playing for the visiting team.
“Unique, isn’t it?” Donald said.
This is not the first time for a Ryder Cup held in the United States to include European players who make their primary home in America — Graeme McDowell, Ian Poulter and Justin Rose (Orlando, Fla.), Paul Casey (Scottsdale, Ariz.) and Jesper Parnevik (Jupiter, Fla.) to name a few. But those are seen as golf communities.
The fans are likely to be loud at Medinah when the three-day matches begin Friday, and there is little doubt that will give the Americans a big edge in crowd support.
So where does that leave Donald?
“The way I look at it is the home team has the biggest advantage,” he said. “Just taking away 1 percent of the crowd support, that’s a help to our team. … But, yeah, it’s kind of odd. I don’t play Medinah that much. … Staying in a hotel 20 miles away from where you live is kind of strange, but that’s the way it goes.”
Donald is very much English. He just happens to love Chicago, which is why he never left.
“I think you become familiar with a place,” Donald said. “I had a lot of friends. My coach, Pat, was probably a big reason, too. I started dating Diane a couple months before I got my tour card, but we met when I was in college. I didn’t really have any reason to go anywhere else, other than the weather. But you always stay where you feel comfortable. And I felt very comfortable in Chicago.”
This isn’t the first time Donald is playing a Ryder Cup on American soil. He made his debut at Oakland Hills outside Detroit in 2004 as a captain’s pick, though not many paid attention.
Now Donald has five PGA Tour victories and he only recently lost the world No. 1 ranking to Rory McIlroy after holding it for 56 weeks. Tiger Woods, Greg Norman, Nick Faldo and Seve Ballesteros are the only players who had been No. 1 longer since the ranking began in 1986.
Donald remains active with Northwestern, particularly the golf team, where he teamed with Kentwood graduate Jess Daley, who went on to win more than $500,000 in professional tour golf.
Donald is involved with The First Tee in Chicago, along with the Ronald McDonald house. They have two young daughters, but still take time to go to restaurants, sports events, along with arts shows and museums.
“We like blending in,” Diane Donald said. “Everything is so easy to get to in Chicago, and it has everything. It’s kind of funny because I felt like I waited my entire life to leave Chicago, and now we have a home in Florida that’s empty half the year. Luke loves being here.”
Only at Medinah, he won’t feel entirely at home.