By Tom Alter, PGATOUR.COM
He was born for this. As the namesake of renowned playing and teaching professional Davis Love Jr., great things were always expected out of Davis Love III. He delivered immediately, finishing 77th on the money list as a PGA TOUR rookie in 1986.
He hasn’t finished outside the top 100 since, a span of 27 consecutive seasons. Only Sam Snead has a longer streak in modern golf history. He finished in the top 75 on the money list for 31 consecutive seasons. Tom Watson’s streak of top-100 finishes stopped at 27 years. “That’s good company,” Love said. “Hopefully I can make it 40 years in a row.”
Neck surgery has Love off to a slow start this season as he seeks to extend his streak. Love had the procedure in February to alleviate numbness and loss of strength. He returned at THE PLAYERS Championship, finishing 48th to earn his first check of the season. He’s making his second post-surgery start at this week’s Crowne Plaza Invitational in Fort Worth, Texas.
Love earned more money in his rookie season than Snead did in his first 10 years on TOUR. You can’t compare dollars won in different eras because of inflation, but you can compare position -- where a player ranks among his contemporaries -- and Snead, Watson and Love are more consistent money earners than anyone who has ever played. This streak celebrates longevity; it’s impressive because it doesn’t care about injuries, illnesses or slumps. A player needs to continuously perform inside the ropes against the best players in the world regardless of what is happening outside the ropes in the real world.
Snead’s streak ended when he finished 103rd on the 1967 money list at the age of 55. His amazing durability pushed him on to another run; he finished within the top 100 again from 1968-74. Snead tied for second at the 1974 Los Angeles Open (with John Mahaffey), two strokes behind Dave Stockton (who shouted at Snead to stay away from him on the 72nd hole because he suspected Snead of trying to play mind games). Snead finished ahead of Tom Watson (4th), Johnny Miller (5th), Tom Kite (6th), Gene Littler and Jack Nicklaus (T11) that week at famed Riviera Country Club. Later that year at the PGA Championship at Tanglewood GC in Winston-Salem, N.C. (the sister city of Greensboro, where he won the TOUR stop a record eight times), Slammin’ Sammy beat everyone in the field except for the winner Lee Trevino and runner-up Jack Nicklaus. Snead concluded the 1974 season 62nd on the money list. At age 62.
Last year, when Love finished exactly 100th on the money list, he tied Watson with 27 consecutive seasons within the top 100. The first player to lead the PGA TOUR money list four consecutive seasons, Watson didn’t fall out of the Top 100 from his first full season in 1972 through 1998. Watson is still going strong on the Champions Tour, and no one will ever forget how he came this close to winning the 2009 Open Championship at age 59 before losing to Stewart Cink in a playoff.
Love’s accomplishment puts him in rarified air. Julius Boros, who holds the record for being the oldest major champion at age 48, and Raymond Floyd finished in the top 100 in 26 consecutive seasons. Jack Nicklaus’ streak lasted 25 years, including a record 17 straight within the top 10. Those names make you appreciate the enduring brilliance of Snead that much more.
Love is destined for the World Golf Hall of Fame himself. He has won 20 times, highlighted by the 1997 PGA Championship under the rainbow at Winged Foot and two PLAYERS titles. The North Carolina Tar Heel has been a player on six Ryder Cup teams (he was the U.S captain at the 2012 Ryder Cup) and six Presidents Cup teams. Love hasn’t just made 512 cuts in 667 career starts, he has lived on the leaderboard. He’s posted 30 second-place finishes and 16 thirds. For 17 consecutive seasons, Davis finished no worse than 33rd on the money list. He holds the PGA TOUR record for most consecutive seasons earning $200,000 (24), including 17 straight exceeding $1 million (a record he currently shares with Phil Mickelson). He hasn’t fared as well recently, and Love realizes it: “To me, the last few years I’ve been hanging on… so hopefully I can get better.”
That’s the thing: this streak doesn’t care about your pedigree or resume. Before having neck surgery, Love didn’t make a cut in his first three tournaments of 2013. That’s one of the best/worst things about the PGA TOUR: there are no guarantees. If you miss the cut, you don’t get paid. If you break your leg, you don’t get paid. Meanwhile, players with healthy bodies and healthy games keep cashing checks.
Another hurdle for Davis is that this year’s shortened PGA TOUR season is more than halfway completed. During his rehabilitation, Love wasn’t able to play in tournaments where he traditionally has success, such as the RBC Heritage, which he won five times. However, Davis performed well in his comeback at THE PLAYERS. He shot even par on the challenging TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course to tie for 48th and earn $23,614. He’ll need to play exceptionally well to get back into the Top 100, which is currently $441,520.
Even if Love gets hot, finishes within the top 100 and extends his streak, how many more years will he play on the PGA TOUR? He’ll turn 50 years old next year, and Love likely will be tempted to compete and have fun with his friends on the Champions Tour.
“Everyone asks me about the Champions Tour,” Love said, “but I’m working this hard to stay on the PGA TOUR.”
Because he’s a 20-time winner, Love is a Life Member and fully exempt on the PGA TOUR.
“I’m trying to keep this streak going,” said Love.
Players with the most consecutive seasons inside the top 100 on the money list.