Brown: Love III still has the talent, fight and desire to win on PGA TOUR

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Super Slo-Mo Drive: The drive of multiple PGA TOUR winner Davis Love III, captured at The Barclays 2012, is analyzed by four-time PGA TOUR winner and Emmy-winning broadcaster Billy Kratzert.

July 09, 2013
By Clifton Brown, PGATOUR.COM columnist

I met Davis Love III in 1997, a few months before he won the PGA Championship at Winged Foot.

Love was 33 years old then, one of the longest hitters on TOUR, and one of the best players in the world. I had just started covering the PGA TOUR, but Love and I clicked. I marveled at how effortlessly he hit a golf ball. He was amused by how far out of bounds I could hit a golf ball.

THE OPEN CHAMPIONSHIP

Catching up with Love III on the telephone Saturday, we laughed about how much things have changed. I still hit it out of bounds with the best of them. But our kids are much older, and so are we.

Love III will turn 50 years old in April. He underwent serious neck surgery in February. Instead of asking Love III about winning tournaments, people often ask him whether he looks forward to playing on the Champions Tour next year. There’s just one problem with that. Love III isn’t ready to be an afterthought on the PGA TOUR.

"I’d like to get back to winning out here," Love III said on Saturday, before tying for ninth at The Greenbrier Classic. "Not just making cuts.

"(Two-time U.S. Open champion) Lee Janzen was asking me the other night, 'What would you rather do, stay out here, make cuts, and maybe win once, or would you rather go to the Champions Tour and win five times in a year?' I’d rather stay out here and try to win.

"My first goal is to win a tournament. No. 2 is to make another Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup team. The fantasy is to win more majors. I’ve seen Tom Watson, and Freddie Couples, and Greg Norman still be competitive in majors, older than I am. That’s why I’m grinding on my game. If I can get a little bit better physically and mentally, I’m right on the edge of competing to win out here."

The top-10 finish at The Greenbrier Classic was a positive sign for Love III. He was strong enough to workout between rounds, and to play his best golf on Sunday. Love III is still not 100 percent, and still gets tingling sensations in one of his fingers. But after putting off surgery for years, Love III thinks he has a three-to-five-year window to compete with the world’s best players.

"Realistically, I’m probably 85 percent of full strength," Love III said. "Over the last couple of years I had been going downhill. When you lose just a little bit at a time, you don’t really notice it as much. Before the surgery, I was swinging bad, not hitting it anywhere. I had lost about 20 yards off my drive, and at the worst about 80 percent off my left arm strength.

"Now I feel so much better. If you look at (Broncos quarterback) Peyton Manning, he got better over the season after coming back from neck surgery. My doctor thinks it will be the same for me. By next year, he thinks I’ll feel better than I have in five or 10 years. If I feel like I do today the rest of my career, I’ll be happy. I’m strong enough to win."

Not that winning will be easy. The first of Love III’s 20 victories on the PGA TOUR came in 1987. His last victory was in 2008. I asked Love III if it’s tougher to win on TOUR now than it was in 1987.

"It’s tougher now, because there are so many guys that can win," Love III said. "If you slip up, somebody’s going to beat you.

"The guys now are just better athletes. I’m standing on the range and I watch Morgan Hoffmann, Jordan Spieth walk by, and they’re just in great shape. Hunter Mahan is a rock. Luke Donald is a rock. Dustin Johnson looks like he doesn’t even have to work out. He’s just built for athletics. For a 49-year-old guy like me, that makes it tougher to keep up."

During a tournament in 2011, Love III got a reminder of how competitive the TOUR had become during a rain delay. A decision was made that play would resume the next day. Love III headed for his courtesy car, looking forward to a nap. But on the way to his car, Love III passed by Rickie Fowler, who was headed for the gym.

"I thought to myself, 'Well, I better not take a nap,' " Love III said.

Love III is playing in this week’s John Deere Classic, and looks forward to a busy schedule the remainder of 2013. The Steve Stricker approach, playing a limited schedule, doesn’t work for Love III. To play his best, he needs to compete on a regular basis. It keeps him focused, sharpens his mind for competition.

"If I did it like Stricker, I wouldn’t be any good," Love III said. "I need to play 25 tournaments. I still love having a tee time on Sunday."

How well Love III plays between now and next April will help determine how often he plays on the Champions Tour when he becomes eligible. But for now, Love III is not thinking about leaving the PGA TOUR. He is thinking about winning.

"Talk to me next April when it’s my birthday, and I may say, 'You know what, I’m tired of fighting it, these guys are too good,' " Love III said. "But that’s not what I’m thinking now."

Clifton Brown is a freelance columnist for PGATOUR.COM. His views do not necessarily represent the views of the PGA TOUR.

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