MEDINAH, Ill. — If there’s a Ryder Cup player associated with Chicago, it wouldn’t be any of the 12 Americans, although Steve Stricker is from Madison, Wis., two hours up the road, and played at the University of Illinois, and assistant captain Jeff Sluman lives in a suburb.
It would be Luke Donald, a 34-year-old Englishman who played at Northwestern and has lived in this area since he graduated in 2001.
Donald is one of the expected anchors on the European team, a former No. 1-ranked player in the world who has a Ryder Cup record of 8-2-1. Chicago has been proud to claim him. Maybe not this week, though.
“It’s a unique situation for me. Been living here for 15 years. I’ll be the only guy on both teams that is more familiar with this town than probably anyone,” Donald said. “Hopefully, I can garner a little bit of the support from the crowd because of that and turn that into a slight advantage for Team Europe.”
Donald has been part of three victorious Ryder Cup teams, but winning in his adopted hometown would be extra special. The busy week will keep him from attending Northwestern’s home football game on Saturday against Indiana, and he won’t be able to serve as tour guide. If he could take his 11 teammates into the city?
“If we weren’t playing golf the next day, obviously have a few beers in Lincoln Park and then catch a Cubs game,” Donald said. “Then maybe go down to Michigan Avenue to check out some of the sights down there, Buckingham Fountain. Just take in the city, really.”
Donald received an art theory degree from Northwestern, and is an accomplished painter. What would he be doing if he wasn’t one of the world’s best golfers and needed to lean on his degree?
“I think I’d probably be living in a different suburb than I am now, let’s put it that way,” Donald said.
For a good bit of the summer, there was a question if Phil Mickelson would automatically qualify on points, or if he’d need to be one of Davis Love’s four captain’s picks. Fortunately for Mickelson, he held onto the eighth spot, then played some of his best golf since May: a tie for fourth at the Deutsche Bank Championship, a tie for second at the BMW Championship, a tie for 15th at the Tour Championship.
“I think that this is my 18th team event in a row, counting the Presidents Cup, and I have realized over time how much I look forward to these events,” Mickelson said. “How much I love the Ryder Cup, how much I love being a part of the team, and how much I want to play and compete.
“It’s a great motivator to play well. And fortunately in the FedEx Cup [playoffs], it gave me an opportunity to get my game sharp and to have some good finishes and get some momentum heading in here. I was concerned because I went through a little bit of a lull through the season, and I’m glad to feel and see that I’m starting to play a lot better.”
Playing with an edge
Leave it to Ian Poulter to stir the pot a bit. Poulter is one of many European players who have established a home base in the US, and was asked if that might lead to the European team losing its edge when it faces the Americans.
“[No], because it’s the Ryder Cup. It means too much to Europe. It means too much to us for it ever to lose that edge,” Poulter said. “This event is unique. I hate to say we don’t get on for three days, but there is that divide, and it’s not that we don’t like each other.
“We are all good friends, both sides of the pond. But there’s something about the Ryder Cup which kind of intrigues me, how you can be great mates with somebody, but boy, do you want to kill them in Ryder Cup. It’s passion like I’ve never seen before.”
Dialing it back
By design, Europe’s Wednesday practice was limited to nine holes. “They saw every bit of the course [Tuesday], and now it’s just a matter of taking it a little bit easier today and tomorrow because Friday, 36 holes, Saturday, 36 holes, a lot of pressure, a lot of tension,” European captain Jose Maria Olazabal said . . . The US team, which got in a full practice round, was sporting red pants and blue shirts. Perhaps the pants can be left at home next time . . . Mickelson has the most Ryder Cup experience among the 24 players, having played eight times before. The most experienced caddie? That would be Mike “Fluff” Cowan, who will be working his 11th Ryder Cup. He’ll be on Jim Furyk’s bag this week . . . Mickelson stands a good chance at setting a US record for Ryder Cup matches played. He’s at 34; the record of 37 is held by Billy Casper. Nick Faldo played in 46 matches for Europe . . . Dustin Johnson has a new caddie this week, because his normal looper, Bobby Brown, is out with a back injury. Jeff Weber, Love’s regular caddie, is filling in. Talk about a full-service captain . . . The US beat Europe, 14.5-9.5, in the Junior Ryder Cup, held Monday and Tuesday at Olympia Fields.Michael Whitmer can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeWhitmer.