Davis Love III has played in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am 30 times, winning the star-studded affair twice and finishing among the top 10 on five other occasions.
This week, though, will be different.
Yes, he’ll be inside the ropes at the iconic course set along the cliffs of Carmel Bay. Only this time, he’ll be walking with a headset over his golf cap and small video monitor slung over his chest instead of a set of golf clubs at his side.
The AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am is Love’s third week as a member of the CBS broadcast team. In a way, it’s a job he’s been preparing for since that day he first climbed into a broadcast tower and listened to Ben Wright call the action at what was then the Greater Greensboro Open.
That invitation followed one of the many, many dinners Love has had over the years with CBS stalwarts like Lance Barrow and the late Frank Chirkinian, Pat Summerall and Ken Venturi. Love was curious about what went on behind the scenes and he knew a few hours with Wright would be entertaining.
“I got to go to dinner with the legends, the legendary announcers of CBS Sports,” Love explains. “So, they said, ‘Hey, you're playing in the morning.’ So, I go up in the tower and sit with Ben in the afternoon, just because he's hysterical.
“And now it’s come all the way around.”
Over the years, Love often found himself hanging out with his buddies in the TV compound when he wasn’t playing. He remembers Barrow, who retires at the end of this year after more than two decades as the coordinating producer of CBS’s golf telecasts, planting a seed about joining the crew about 20 years ago.
“Lance was like, ‘I sure hope one day you'll work for us,’” Love recalls.
The World Golf Hall of Famer also remembers his reply. “’Aww, I'm never going to do that. Never. I'm going to play, then I'm going to go hunting. So, we've talked about it a long time.”
But times change. The avid outdoorsman and barbeque aficionado is 55 now. He’s also a grandfather of three with a surgically replaced left hip who grudgingly acknowledges maybe it’s time to slow down. The idea of reinventing himself as a television announcer suddenly began to seem more interesting.
So, Love has joined another newcomer and fellow major champion Trevor Immelman on the CBS broadcast team this year along with veterans Jim Nantz, Sir Nick Faldo, Ian Baker-Finch, Frank Nobilo and Dottie Pepper, who is now the lead on-course reporter. Love calls Pepper his “coach.”
“I always feel like, no matter what I'm doing, I'm never going to be able to keep up with her,” he says with a laugh. “But that's good ... and she and Nick, and just right on down the list, (Mark) Rolfing and everybody, have given me great advice.”Davis Love III has 21 career wins on the PGA TOUR. (Keyur Khamar/PGA TOUR)
Prior to his debut at the Farmers Insurance Open, Love went through two “boot camps.” One was with Barrow and several other key CBS staffers in a Dallas studio where he learned terminology and watched footage of tournaments to get a sense of the flow of the show.
“it was an unbelievable time,” Love says. “So, then I could go back after that, and over the next month, I could watch a lot of golf, and understand what I needed to work on.”
CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said he expected nothing less of Love.
“When we first met with Davis a couple of years ago, he said to us, ‘My main motivation is to learn the business. You guys tell me to pull cable, and I’ll learn from the ground up,’” McManus said during a conference call last month.
Pepper also came to Sea Island where Love lives. She showed him her yardage book with notations about who’s in each tower and populated by post-it notes with information about that day’s pairing. They did a mock broadcast of sorts following Love’s brother Mark and some friends as they played.
“She archives all that stuff,” Love says with a trace of wonder in his voice. “She's just over the top. She's Patrick Reed with three yardage books, versus Davis (saying), ‘Do we have a book today?’ Yeah, I got the right book. ...
“I went through the book with her, and walked around and watched her follow (my brother) ... And, my God, now I have to do it. I have to learn it. But it's like somebody said, ‘All right, here's how you play at Torrey Pines.’ And you explained this to me. ‘Oh, I get it.’”
In short, Pepper gave Love a game plan, just as he’s helped other players over the years learn which iron to hit or which way a putt breaks on a certain hole during practice rounds. She also had some practical advice.
“You need to listen more than you talk,” Love remembers Pepper telling him. “And I go, ‘that's what (his wife) Robin tells me.’ She goes It'll apply to your whole life. But if I'm listening all the time, and I'm watching when I can, I'm in the flow of the game, the match, the broadcast.”
Shortly after Love’s new gig was announced, he ran into former major leaguer Joe Simpson, the long-time Atlanta Braves announcer, in Sea Island. Simpson told Love not to be afraid to give his opinions – even when it’s tough -- and give fans the insight gleaned from his 34 years on TOUR.
“He goes, ‘Everybody's going to tell you how to do it. I want to hear you,’” Love recalls. “... He said, "They're all going to tell you how to do it, but they hired you to be you.’ You don't want Tony Romo to be Troy Aikman. You want Tony Romo to be Tony Romo. So that was good advice.”
As of now, Love is scheduled to work every CBS broadcast except the RBC Heritage – where he’s a five-time champion – and likely the Wyndham Championship, which he won for the third time in 2015 at 51. Both are courses where he still feels competitive.
Love says he is likely to play in eight TOUR events this year as well as eight on PGA TOUR Champions. He ranks fourth in career starts on TOUR and would love to overtake Mark Brooks for No. 1 – there are 34 official starts separating them – but knows that is getting less likely with the passage of time.
“I would like to fantasize that I could play on the TOUR a couple more years and stay competitive and break that record ... but I think my game is showing that I'm losing speed, losing power,” Love says.
“I'm not going to really play on the regular tour on big golf courses. I would like to play Hilton Head a couple more times maybe and some of those places. I love the PGA TOUR, but I know I'm not going to play it forever, and CBS is a team that I've always wanted to be on, so good timing.”