ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Hardly anyone noticed Luke Donald sitting on a sofa Tuesday morning in the stately lobby at Sea Island Golf Club, where he faced a daylong photo shoot with a corporate sponsor.
Considering the mess he got drawn into last week in Spain, that was fine by him.
“I’m hoping that people will see through this,” Donald said. “I hope people will know me for who I am the last three years, not someone who is outspoken like that. I’m not one for the limelight.”
Donald didn’t make headlines at the World Cup. He just tried to explain them.
The source was English teammate Paul Casey, who said in an interview with The Sunday Times that he learned to “properly hate” the Americans during the Ryder Cup. He went on to say that U.S. fans can be “bloody annoying” and that the vast majority of Americans don’t know what’s going on.
By the time tabloid editors got hold of the story, one headline in The Mirror quoted Casey as saying, “Stupid Americans. I hate them.”
Casey faced the British press on the eve of the World Cup with Donald at his side, two players whose personalities are polar opposites. Casey is brash and shoots from the lip, Donald is quiet and cautious.
Donald has been a model of modesty since he came to the United States seven years ago and quietly assembled solid credentials. He won the NCAA title as a sophomore at Northwestern, made it through all three stages of Q-school on his first try and finished off his rookie season on the PGA Tour with a victory.
Where he really shines is in team competition.
Donald twice played on winning Walker Cup teams for Great Britain & Ireland and posted a 7-1 record. He was 2-1-1 in his Ryder Cup debut at Oakland Hills, where he and Sergio Garcia were a formidable team in alternate shot. Last week in Seville, he and Casey gave England the World Cup title for the second time since it began in 1953.
In the press tent, however, Donald might have been too much of a team player.
“Going into that press room Wednesday morning, I had little idea what was about to happen – no idea, really,” Donald said. “I literally heard a few minutes before that there was a controversy over something in the Mirror. I didn’t know what it was about.”
He found out during the news conference, as Casey tried to explain his remarks and dug himself a deeper hole. Casey also went off on the next U.S. Ryder Cup captain, suggesting Tom Lehman did not embody the spirit of sportsmanship that is supposed to define the matches.
Before long, the questions came to Donald.
“Luke, you’re sitting there very quietly,” one reporter said. “Let’s have your take.”
Donald could have held up his hands, begged ignorance and let his teammate fend for himself. Instead, he tried to answer the questions.
“I felt Paul was being hounded by the press,” Donald said. “Being his teammate and partner for the week, I wanted to defend him and try to have some kind of explanation to why he would say those things.”
Donald said Americans tended to be insular, that they could gain a lot by exploring the world – peculiar comments from an Englishman who has played only the PGA Tour and makes his home in Chicago.
Asked if he agreed with Casey’s comments about Lehman, Donald repeated stories that have been making the rounds in Europe the last five years – that Lehman was an instigator in the premature celebration at Brookline and one of the first players to storm across the 17th green when Justin Leonard made the winning putt. None of the photos shows Lehman leading the charge.
“I’ve never had anything but positive experiences with Tom,” Donald said. “He’s a gentleman on the course. The first question I was asked was, ‘Luke, can you comment on the bad things Paul has been saying?’
“I’d like to take that back. It wasn’t my place to comment.”
What set off Casey, then Donald, was an innocent comment by rookie Ryan Palmer when he won at Disney last month for his first PGA Tour victory.
Donald was watching the telecast when Palmer, who closed with a 62, said he was confident he could win because he had won the previous year on the Nationwide Tour, “which is one of the best tours in the world next to the PGA Tour.”
“I don’t think it was his place to say that because he hasn’t played in Europe,” Donald said. “Instances like that are irritating to me and other Europeans that played on a victorious Ryder Cup team, and played so well. To hear that deflates us a little.”
Yes, Americans can be insular and they don’t always grasp the dry British humor.
And Europeans still have a chip on their shoulders.
The only one who relishes this nitpicking is the PGA of America, because it keeps the Ryder Cup part of golf conversations even though the next one is still 22 months away.
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