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Men'sWeek issue 06/28/2012

It’s not easy being number one — just ask Luke Donald.

The top-ranked professional golfer has traded the lead spot with Rory McIlroy a couple of times over the past three months and knows that retaining the top world ranking can be elusive.

This story first appeared in the June 28, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“There is pressure,” the Englishman admitted during a personal appearance at Ralph Lauren’s New York City flagship last week. “As number one, more is expected of you and there are more demands on your time. People expect you to perform well — and I expect me to perform well. But you can only control what you can control, put in the time and hopefully it pays off. It’s about managing expectations.”

Donald, who didn’t make the cut of the recent U.S. Open, was planning to take a couple of weeks off before defending his title at the upcoming Scottish Open at Castle Stuart next month followed by the British Open the following week. Then there’s the Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio, and the PGA Championship in South Carolina in August. “It’s a long run of events,” he said with a smile.

“I came off a disappointing week at the U.S. Open where I didn’t play well,” he admitted. “But I’ve still had a pretty solid year. I’ve won twice and it got me back to number one over Rory. So it’s been a good year, but there’s still a lot left and the chance to achieve more victories, even one of the majors.”

Despite his success — which included the top spot on the PGA Tour money list last year — Donald has never won a major, something McIlroy has managed to achieve.

Donald said that although the two are rivals, they’re “friendly off course. I don’t call him up to go out for dinner, but we’re very cordial. But we still want to beat each other. We’re fierce competitors and both work hard to get to the next level.”

Although McIlroy has been the biggest threat to Donald’s number-one ranking, he said that any number of competitors are capable of moving to the top. “There really isn’t one guy who’s ahead of everyone else like Tiger [Woods] was at his peak,” he said. “The top 20 guys are all very close so it’s gratifying for me to stay on top for close to a year now.”

Donald was in New York to fete the debut of the first RLX golf shop and joined designer Ralph Lauren for cocktails at the Rhinelander Mansion to toast the opening. He also signed autographs for fans the following morning. The appearance served to introduce a limited-edition Luke Donald RLX golf shirt created by Lauren to benefit The First Tee, a charity that provides educational programs designed to build character and instill values into young people through the game of golf. All the net proceeds from the sale of the shirts benefitted the charity.

Donald said he got involved with the organization “a few years back” through his former sponsor, Royal Bank of Scotland. “I got a taste for it.” And today, he hosts an annual event in Chicago, his adopted home town, to raise funds for the local affiliate of the group. “It was not doing well and could have gone under,” he said. “I’ve lived in Chicago for 15 years and thought I could have an impact and help resurrect it.”

He said that what attracted him to the First Tee is the chance to “help kids who don’t have the opportunity to play.” He knows that he was fortunate to be able to join a golf club in the U.K. when he was just nine years old and that had a major impact on his life.

He also appreciates the opportunity to be dressed by Ralph Lauren for nearly a decade. “I signed with them in 2003, one year after I turned pro,” he said. “It’s been a great fit and allows me to surround myself with a premier brand. Ralph Lauren is an icon in the world of fashion.”

Donald said that although Ralph Lauren is American, his sensibility — and his ubiquitous polo logo — “has its roots in England.” In addition, by being an ambassador for the upper-end performance line RLX, Donald is able to indulge his “love of fashion and more European style. It’s got a slimmer cut and is more sporty,” he said. I’m just fortunate that they think I’m the right guy for RLX. I love the brand and all my competitors are jealous that I get to wear it. It makes me look good and when you look good, you play good.”

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