… Never the bride

Bernard Schwartz

I hate you, Luke.”

Jess Daley muttered these words after teammate Luke Donald walked off the 18th green at this weekend’s Compaq U.S. Intercollegiate Championships. But they weren’t meant to be taken seriously.

He was just a little frustrated, and at the same time a little amused by what Donald had done — and by what Donald always does.

“That sonuvabitch. He did it to me again.”

Daley was feeling great after his round, after shooting a 10-under 62 to break the course record down in Los Cabos, Mexico, and his own low as a Northwestern Wildcat. With eleven birdies, Daley did something no NU golfer had ever done — not even Donald, whose personal best of 66 doesn’t even come close.

But Donald still got the last laugh in this latest installment of a never-ending reprise of “anything you can do I can do better.”

When the strokes were tallied, No. 2 Donald had bested No. 17 Daley once again. Donald’s 12-under 204 was just one stroke lower than Daley’s 11-under 205. His second-place finish was just one slot higher.

At lunch, after Daley’s record-breaking round — and Donald’s second-place finish — the friendly duel between mates was worth a laugh.

“Luke joked that he almost felt bad for making that putt on 18,” senior Josh Habig says.

But Donald doesn’t feel bad about sinking that 10-footer and partially shadowing Daley’s day in the sun. Because no matter how well Daley plays and no matter how low he goes, Donald wants to play better — and Daley feels the same way.

“He doesn’t want to lose to me,” Daley says. “What Luke did this weekend just drives me that much more because I don’t want to lose to him either.”

Daley didn’t always come so close to beating Donald. By his own admission, Daley believes he’s 10 times better this year than last, working harder as a senior than ever before, now focused more clearly on becoming a professional than at anytime in the past.

His plans are solid. At the end of this season, Daley’s going pro. Watching Donald accumulate tournament victories over the last three seasons and having measured his own improvement with the play of his teammate, Daley knows he has the game.

“If Jess was playing on any other team, there’s no question he’d be a standout,” coach Pat Goss says. “He’s on pace to become an All-American, and he has a scoring average (71.39) that would be the lowest in school history if Luke wasn’t here. I think the tremendous things Jess has accomplished are easily undermined by what Luke has done.”

But with the record Donald has put together during his career at NU, Daley has good reason to look at Donald as if he were examining a professional. The defending national champion, Donald has been ranked No. 1 several times, with his latest victory coming at the San Juan Shootout in February.

While Daley may not possess the victories Donald has claimed, this weekend’s 62 and the 64 he shot at The Nelson last year are lower scores than Donald has ever posted. And in their friendly disputes, Daley is always sure to mention these distinctions.

That Daley and Donald are best friends despite their competitive relationship on the golf course is a testament to their friendship. One formed before Donald got his feet wet in the States. One formed before he took the golfing world by storm.

As a freshman, Donald pledged Sigma Chi because Daley was in the fraternity. And Daley, the sophomore, was Donald’s pledge father.

“Jess kind of took me under his wing when I first got here,” Donald says.

Added Goss: “It’s a very interesting combination. They’re best friends, but they’re so competitive in golf. Jess and Luke are extremely close, but on the golf course, there’s no one either one of them would rather beat.”

This summer Daley’s life reaches a few milestones. He graduates; he turns pro. And in his upcoming wedding, Daley asked Donald to participate.

When he returned from Mexico, his fianc