Ranked as the world’s top golfer for most of the past year and a half, Luke Donald is a local links legend. He arrived here in 1997 to play golf—and study art—at Northwestern University. He met his wife here and owns a home in Northfield. So when the three-day Ryder Cup—the biennial match that pits the top American golfers against the best pros from Europe—convenes at Medinah Country Club on September 28, Donald will tee off for Team USA, right?
Wrong. Donald is a native Brit, hailing from a storybook hamlet 30 miles from London—which means he will play for the team from across the pond. “I’ve lived in Chicago for 15 years,” says Donald, 34. “I love it here, and I’ve built up a bit of a following. At least I hope they won’t be booing.” (Lineups were not available at presstime, but Donald, who played on three of the last four European teams, is expected to compete.)
“For Luke, the Ryder Cup might be the most important event he’s ever played,” says Pat Goss, who runs the golf program at Northwestern and also serves as Donald’s swing coach. “It’s an all-in, head-to-head battle. It’s almost a duel. There is no room for fear in the Ryder Cup—and Luke has none.”
The real drama, says Goss, could begin at the 12th hole: Hit the tightly mowed slope by the green and your ball might end up in the water. The 13th is no easier: “When you stand on the back tee,” Goss says, “you can hardly believe how long it is to such a narrow green.” Medinah has added a bedeviling two-acre pond to 15, and 16, explains Goss, “is a wonderful dogleg left up the hill to an elevated green.” Finally, Goss advises, “keep an eye on how well [Donald] putts in the Ryder Cup. He can break a guy’s spirit.”
September 28 to 30 (NBC and the Golf Channel; check listings for times)
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About Medinah Country Club
Babe Ruth played here; Al Capone may have, too. Its Course Number 3 has hosted three U.S. Opens and two PGA Championships but never a Ryder Cup. That makes this a once-in-a-lifetime event, says Don Larson, Medinah’s Ryder Cup chairman, who’s been preparing for it since 1999, when the PGA of America selected the west suburban club for the 2012 match. The club has planted a new variety of creeping bentgrass on Number 3’s 26 acres of fairway and replaced all 88,000 square feet of tan sand in its 74 bunkers with the more visually appealing Tour Signature white sand.
Medinah was founded in 1924 by the fez-topped Shriners—which helps explain the quirky blend of Byzantine, Oriental, and Louis XIV styles in its clubhouse (above). But Miss Medinah, the two-humped camel that once graced the club’s greens—and posed with the Chicago mayor Anton Cermak—is long gone.
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Greenbacks and Greens
Making cents of the Ryder Cup
Amount the British seed merchant Samuel Ryder paid for a four-pound, nine-karat gold chalice—the Ryder Cup trophy—for the inaugural event in 1927
Amount spent since 2009 by Medinah Country Club to renovate its greens in anticipation of this fall’s match
Top online price at presstime for a six-day ticket to the event. Last summer, tickets—which were sold through a lottery—started at $35 for practice rounds.
Amount awarded the winners. “[There’s] no money involved, just pride,” says Luke Donald. “You get an opportunity to represent your country.”
Photography: (Donald) Lenny Ignelzi/AP Photo; (Medinah Country Club) © 2011 Gary W. Kellner/Dimpled Rock, LLC; (camel) Courtesy of Medinah Heritage Collection, © Medinah Country Club