For a man who strives for balance in his life, Luke Donald endured a dizzying four days in November.
His father, Colin, died suddenly near London while Donald was awaiting the birth of his second child at his North Shore home. Family members advised him to stay in Chicago, and he was rewarded with an early morning gift on 11/11/11: a second daughter, Sophia.
"Dad was certainly a free spirit and had his own ways," Donald said. "He was very proud of my golf achievements but more proud of the person I've turned into. He brought me up to lead a very balanced life."
Donald's golf game reflects that steady approach. The Northwestern alumnus consistently prospered in 2011, becoming the first golfer to win the PGA Tour and European Tour money titles in the same season. At one point he went 449 consecutive holes without a three-putt.
He makes his PGA Tour season debut this week in the Northern Trust Open at Riviera, and he has a sizable lead in the world rankings: 9.59 average points to Rory McIlroy's 7.86 and Lee Westwood's 7.54.
In a telephone interview with the Chicago Tribune, Donald talked about his love of Chicago, his best chance to win a major in 2012 and the end of his putting streak:
QUESTION: Elle has been good luck for you. Is there now pressure on Sophia?
ANSWER: Of course. I don't think it's a coincidence that my golf game has gotten better since the birth of Elle (in February 2010). It has given me better balance and perspective, so it's easy to let those bad rounds and bad shots go.
Q: Does Elle swing a plastic club?
A: Occasionally, mainly one-handed. She could be a lefty, who knows? If she wants to pursue it further, she will. But I won't be one of those pushy parents.
Q: Have you splurged on anything with all that cash?
A: We went on a nice holiday to Barbados. But I'm not a splurger. I guess the biggest splurge was buying a lot in the Bear's Club (in Jupiter, Fla.). But when the kids get old enough, we'll spend more time in Chicago. I understand the schools are better there.
Q: Why keep spending so much time in our beloved but cold-weather city?
A: Chicago is fun. We've spent a lot of time there, about 15 years. My wife's parents and family live in Chicago, so that's a big selling point.
Q: Your home club in Chicago, Conway Farms in Lake Forest, unofficially has been awarded the 2013 BMW Championship. Your thoughts?
A: I'm excited for a lot of the pros to see the course. A few have played it already and have good memories. I have talked to the GM, Todd Marsh, and (director of golf) Jeff Mory and shared thoughts on improving the course. It's exciting to have a tour course at a place where you are a member. It's certainly a lot shorter drive for me than going to Cog Hill (in Lemont). The biggest problem I'll have is turning the pros away who want to stay with me.
Q: Who would you consider letting crash at your place?
Whoever is willing to pay! Rent's expensive out there.
Q: Which players are you tightest with?
A: Sergio (Garcia). I've known him since the beginning. Tim Clark. Nick Watney. And guys from the Bears Club. Carl Pettersson, Tom Gillis, Camilo (Villegas), Ernie (Els).
Q: How do you close the gap between the ability to win tournaments and the ability to win majors?
A: My golf game is good enough to win majors right now; it just hasn't happened. It hasn't been the right time. There are things I can improve, like driving. I improved a lot (in that area) last year but still have more to go. If I can get the ball in the fairway more often, I'll have better opportunities.
Q: Which major venue gives you the best chance this year (Augusta National, Olympic Club, Royal Lytham & St. Annes, Kiawah Island)?
A: Probably Augusta because of experience. You often see a lot of great winners there, and it favors someone with a proficient short game. I've never played the Olympic Club. I have played Lytham, but only some amateur events. I haven't played Kiawah.
Q: Is the Ryder Cup at Medinah already on your brain?
A: Certainly I'd like to be on that (European) team. I wouldn't want to miss it for anything.
Q: Are you expecting lots of ticket requests?
A: Yes, I think it's a little like Augusta. They're pretty frugal. You get eight for the week and I think you have an option to purchase four more.
Q: What's the longest stretch you went this winter without hitting a ball?
A: Three weeks. Last year it was five weeks. You need it after playing both tours.
Q: When was the last time you checked the world rankings?
A: Probably last week. There are always people on your heels. I'm more checking on other people. It's something to pass the time.
Q: What's the coolest thing about being No. 1?
A: To know that your best is good enough to beat anyone in the world.
Q: Your run of 449 holes without a three-putt ended at the Dunhill Links. How did you react?
A: I was annoyed. I grinded over that 8-footer, and it lipped out.
Q: You left yourself an 8-footer?
A: The first putt was from 80 to 100 feet.