Cool-hand Luke's extended golf family

Not too distant from his apartment on Lake Michigan, Luke Donald's Ryder Cup career began, racked with tension, on a chill, grey morning. His drive off the first tee headed wickedly for the trees. By the conclusion of that momentous first day's play for Europe, he was out of the Woods, in more ways than one.

Not too distant from his apartment on Lake Michigan, Luke Donald's Ryder Cup career began, racked with tension, on a chill, grey morning. His drive off the first tee headed wickedly for the trees. By the conclusion of that momentous first day's play for Europe, he was out of the Woods, in more ways than one.

Donald's only minor frustration that he had not emerged with two points from his fourball and foursome matches. Could it have been any more satisfying an introduction to golf's great team competition? "Yes, if I'd holed that par on 18th [in the morning's fourballs] for a win it could have been better. But I'll take one and a half [points]."

The man who could have become Luke Skywalker by the afternoon, but maintained admirable composure under duress, paused, then continued: "They say, 'Once you make a Ryder Cup, you never want to miss another one'. After today, I can believe that."

He added: "I was very nervous on the first tee. Couldn't you tell? [He smiles.] I pushed it way right. But after that I settled down and really got into it. Paul [McGinley, his morning fourball partner] was great. He kept encouraging me and making me feel very comfortable. He was a good partner for me."

That was a crucial element of Donald's introduction. While Hal Sutton's US team too frequently appeared beset by lack of communication and an absence of camaraderie, Donald's opening day of Ryder Cup golf epitomised the value of a team ethic - and not just among his fellow European players, crucial though the contributions of the Irishman McGinley and Donald's afternoon accomplice, Sergio Garcia (whose apartment in Switz-erland he had shared during the European Masters he won a fortnight ago), had been.

It was an extended family affair, with his brother Christian caddieing and his long-time girlfriend, Diane Antonopoulos, watching every shot, together with her parents and his, Colin and Anne. And his sister. The list goes on. "Luke's family is all out here, as are all his friends from Chicago," said Diane in the interval between matches. "He has a big support network, which helps him a lot."

The result was that the 27-year-old, although inevitably at times exhibiting the fact that he was a Ryder Cup novice, overall gave every indication that he could exist with the best. Temperamentally, he may not be the kind of performer observers crave - a Montgomery, say, living every shot in a public display of grin or grimace - but Donald, with his solid, disciplined play, is eminently suited to matchplay.

"Luke has been waiting his whole life to play this event," said Diane, who is American, but born of Greek parents. "There is pressure on him every day, but he saw it as his chance of a lifetime. It's hard to be in the Ryder Cup but, watching him, he didn't seem to be affected by nerves. In fact it looked to me like he was just playing in any other tournament, which is how Luke was approaching it. He was just his normal calm self. He didn't take anything negative into it."

She added: "He may be young, but he's not at all intimidated by the big names - whether he's up against Stewart Cink or Tiger Woods or whoever. He has no fear, in golf or in other aspects of his life. He always wants to be the best. His attitude is, if you are scared or worried all the time you are going to give yourself an ulcer."

The pair got together at Northwestern University, where Donald majored in art. One of his paintings was recently featured in a PGA Tour auction. However, his life is a broad canvas, and it is the appliance of science in golf that dominates his waking hours.

Not that Diane regards herself as the partner of a celebrity sportsman. "He's just this frat-boy golfer I met in a bar," she said. "Outside of golf, he has a different personality, although I have to say he likes to be in control of situations all the time. Luke likes everything to be as it is planned, for nothing to go wrong - whether it is in golf or whether he is just putting out the garbage."

She continued: "People say he's boring and quiet, but they don't know him. Sergio [Garcia] brings it out of him - he becomes quite rowdy when he's with Sergio. They have a lot of fun and tease each other a lot."

Donald enjoys a similar rapport with his brother Christian. After that first wayward drive, the pair could be seen in earnest discussion. When the golfer eventually emerged, relatively unscathed, from the trees, Christian discreetly brushed him down to remove the foliage clinging to his back. "My brother's been with me since I've been a pro," Luke said. "We're very familiar, and we work well together. It's been a great experience for him today as well as me." Sibling harmony on a day of European unity.

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