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'Home' Ryder Cup for Donald
It'll be a strange Ryder Cup for Luke Donald. One of the stars of the European team will be essentially playing at home when the biennial competition pitting the Euros against the Americans starts Friday at Medinah Country Club near Chicago.
The England-born Donald came to the Windy City in 1997, attending Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., on a golf scholarship. In 1999, he won the NCAA Men's Golf Championship, and later graduated with a degree in art. He stayed in the Chicago area, marrying a local girl, Diane Antonopoulos, in 1997. The couple have two young daughters and live on the North Side.
This makes Donald the only "hometown" player in the Ryder Cup. "Unique, isn't it?" he told The Associated Press on Monday. Despite the familiarity locals have with the 34-year-old, Donald expects the fans to overwhelmingly side with the American contingent during the three-day event, with an occasional cheer reserved for him.
"The way I look at is the home team has the biggest advantage," he noted. "Just taking away 1 percent of the crowd support, that's a help to our team. And that's the way I'm looking at it. But, yeah, it's kind of odd. Staying in a hotel 20 miles away from where you live is kind of strange, but that's the way it goes."
Though his roots are English, Donald never left Chicago after arriving in the States for college. "I was wondering how I was going to play golf in college when it was still a little chilly out," he told the AP about his first glimpse of a snow-covered Chicago.
"That was my first impression. And then my coach took me around to all the courses, just amazing golf courses. I had never seen anything like that coming from England. Also just amazed at college sports in general, just how big everything was. Our stadium was 55,000, and that was considered small in college sports. That's a big Premier League football stadium in England."
Though he goes to a second home in Florida in the winter, he has no plans to relocate from his primary place of residence in the Midwest. "I think you become familiar with a place," he said. "I had a lot of friends. My coach, Pat (Goss), 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."
Donald is an active Chicagoan, helping out with Northwestern's golf team. He's also involved with the First Tee in Chicago and the Ronald McDonald House. "We like blending in," Diane Donald told the AP.
"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."