By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Peyton Manning helped Davis Love decide to have surgery to fuse two sets of disks in his neck.
It's not like Love called the the Denver Broncos quarterback on the phone and asked his opinion, though. Or tweeted or texted him, either.
Love actually has known since 2000 that he'd likely have to have the operation in the future. So he watched with great interest the way Manning played after missing the 2011 season due to a similar procedure. Manning passed for 4,659 yards and 37 touchdowns. Enough said.
"(Steve) Stricker and I have joked back and forth a little bit, well, you do it. No, you do it. Somebody's got to go first," Love said. "(But) really, what gave me the most confidence was watching Peyton Manning go through it from, as a fan, he had the problem, he knew it was getting bad and he had the surgery and he came back and played very, very well."
Love is now anxious to how his own comeback goes. He had the surgery a week after he withdrew from the Waste Management Phoenix Open in February after playing just one round.
This week Love will make his 28th appearance at THE PLAYERS Championship, a tournament he has won twice during his career. He's not quite sure how he will play but he's ready to compete and enjoying reconnecting with his friends.
"My teacher, Jack Lumpkin, today said you're swinging so hard on the first couple holes and I said, I'm excited," Love said. "I'm excited to be on the golf course. So I'm excited to be here, and excited to continue that streak."
Love's doctor basically had told him he'd know when he'd need the surgery. That point actually came several years ago, but "again, being chicken, it was hard" to pull the trigger, Love said, and he decided to wait. The point of no return came in Phoenix.
"I was very frustrated mentally," Love said. "I knew physically I couldn't do it, but I ... was just grinding away, and there was no reason to be doing it. So finally I called my doctor, ... and I said I'm just beating my head against the wall, aren't I? And he said, yes, you are. You're going to have that surgery. You can have it now, you can have it in the summer or you can have it in the fall, but you're going to have it this year."
Love said the pain was gone as soon as he woke up after the surgery. Ditto for the tingling in his fingers. He began putting the day he got back from Atlanta, where he had the operation. Next came one-armed wedges; eight weeks later he was able to take full swings. Early on, though, a lot of the work Love did was simply to build strength and stamina for those back-to-back weeks on the road -- not refine his swing.
"I just need to get strong enough to play golf day in and day out," Love said. "I can play four or five or six days in a row now. I need to get to where I can play two qualifying rounds, Colonial, Memorial, and two more qualifying rounds. So I need to be ready for stuff like that. I've been able to do it the last few years, but not as well as I'd like, so I'm really close."
As the pain worsened, Love's body found ways to compensate, and he didn't even know he was doing it. The last four or five years, for example, Love had a habit of getting across the line at the top of his backswing. Under the watchful eye of his coach, Love could correct the flaw but a few weeks later, it would return.
"I thought I wasn't a very good student, wasn't working hard enough, or just bad habits," Love said. "We didn't realize that my strength in the left was going away and my right was doing all the work. ...
"So when I played well, I timed it right. When I played bad, I was flipping it, hooking it, and just the consistency wasn't there, the power wasn't there. Guys that normally I outdrove are outdriving me all of a sudden, not to name any names."
After the surgery, though, his distance is back, his clubhead speed is returning and Love is anxious to see how he plays in the PGA TOUR's signature event.
"I'm getting there," Love said. And this week at TPC Sawgrass is another step closer.