Donald revels in States of bliss

The prodigal's return
Click to follow
The Independent Online

In Chicago, Chicago, that wonderful town, they do things they don't do in High Wycombe, which might help to explain why Luke Donald prefers to make a living on the other side of the Atlantic. "I enjoy it over there,'' the young Englishman said. "I like the lifestyle.''

In Chicago, Chicago, that wonderful town, they do things they don't do in High Wycombe, which might help to explain why Luke Donald prefers to make a living on the other side of the Atlantic. "I enjoy it over there,'' the young Englishman said. "I like the lifestyle.''

Nevertheless Donald has agreed to a sea change, or more accurately a slight change of tack, that should resolve a constitutional rift. When is a Brit not eligible for the Ryder Cup? When he chooses to play on the US tour. It became something of a cause célèbre in Donald's case because he is considered to be a Nick Faldo in the making. The boy, as they would put it in On The Waterfront, can be a contender.

Last year Donald, who turned professional in 2001 following a dazzling amateur career, was offered affiliate membership to the European Tour and played in only four events. He won £115,095, most of it for finishing third in the Scandinavian Masters, and that was sufficient to put him 115th in the Order of Merit and secure his Tour card. However, an obligation of membership is to play 11 tournaments, and Cool Hand Luke showed no inclination to do so. That might have been the end of the matter except for one thing - the Ryder Cup.

"I had a lot of fun playing in the Walker Cup and it would be a great thing for me and my career to play in the Ryder Cup,'' Donald said. But the European Tour said he would not be eligible because he hadn't fulfilled his quota.

A couple of weeks ago, Donald rang Ken Schofield, the executive director of the Tour, and agreement was reached. Donald hopes to play in seven events up to the Ryder Cup, which takes place at Oakland Hills, Detroit, from 17 to 19 September, and if he qualifies or is selected will play in four more tournaments after the match against the US. "If I don't make the team I don't have to play the full 11. Ken was very keen for me to play in Europe and showed a lot of enthusiasm. I'm going to make the effort.''

Michigan would be local territory for Donald, but his immediate priority is The Open Championship at Troon, his 2004 debut in Europe. As he has never set foot on the Ayrshire links, he will play a practice round today. Donald arrived at the family home in High Wycombe last Tuesday and flew to Glasgow on Friday after popping into Beaconsfield, the club where he learned to play golf and where he is an honorary member.

His game is in good nick. Last weekend he finished joint third in the Western Open near Chicago, closing with a 67 which won him $278,000. "It pays the rent,'' he said. Where is he living? Wrigley Field?

It also moved him to 59th in the world rankings. If he breaks into the top 50, gaining access to the majors and three other world events which have dual ranking in the US and Europe, he would only have to commit to four tournaments on the European Tour next season to enjoy the best of both worlds.

Donald got into The Open by qualifying at Congressional, scoring 70, 67, and at six under par he gained the last of the 15 spots that were available. "I didn't make the Masters and I failed to qualify for the US Open, so this was a big deal.'' More than 60 players withdrew from the challenge. "I was very surprised,'' Donald said. "Originally there was a great field, but it made my life easier.''

Life for a 26-year-old millionaire with America and Europe as his playgrounds could barely be better. Donald and the American Charles Howell III were handpicked to form a team with Jack Nicklaus, sponsored by the Royal Bank of Scotland, to give clinics and play golf with clients. Nicklaus will be at Troon, although not as a player. "I've had one-on-one time with Jack, but he's very guarded about giving too much advice. He knows I've done a lot of the hard work myself.''

At Northwestern University, where he played a lot of golf and studied a little fine art, Donald prospered under the coaching of Pat Goss, so much so that he won the Collegiate individual title in 1999 and broke Tiger Woods' record for the lowest stroke average. His record for GB & Ireland in the Walker Cup victories over the US in 1999 and 2001 was seven wins and one defeat. After graduating through the US Tour qualifying school he marked his rookie season in 2002 by winning the Southern Farm Bureau Classic and finished 58th on the money list, earning more than $1m. This season he lost a play-off to John Daly for the Buick Invitational. "My game has evolved in America. I'm comfortable there and the courses suit me.''

He has yet to make the cut in The Open, although on his debut five years ago, when the casualties mounted at Carnoustie, he was the leading amateur. He didn't win the silver medal because no amateur made the cut. He missed it by two.

Team Donald will be out in force at Troon. His brother Christian, a former club pro at Marlow, is his caddie; his girlfriend Diane, whom he met at Northwestern, will also share the rented house. She graduated with a BA in journalism, so that's the book taken care of.

Comments