Love's got more to give
The veteran is eager to begin his 30th season on TOUR
January 05, 2016
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
SEA ISLAND, Ga. – He’s 51 years old. A youthful-looking 51, to be sure, but he's 51 just the same.
And that grandfather named Davis Love III is in Hawaii this week, eagerly preparing for the start of his 30th year on the PGA TOUR at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.
He hasn't played on Maui since 2009 but Love earned his way back to the winners-only event just like Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler -- players nearly half his age -- did. His victory at the Wyndham Championship last fall cemented Love's place in the elite field, and guaranteed him spots in two of his favorite tournaments, the Masters and THE PLAYERS Championship.
His return to many of the game’s biggest events this year will serve a dual purpose.
Not only will he be there to compete, Love can also seek out prospective members of his U.S. Ryder Cup team for practice rounds and locker room chats. Love is leading the United States team for the second time in four years after being hand-picked by the star-studded task force formed after the U.S. lost the biennial matches in 2014.
The task force’s members range from Rickie Fowler to Raymond Floyd, who won his third and final major before Fowler was born; Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson also are on the group’s roster. Love says being named captain by such a select group was "humbling."
It's an assignment Love doesn't take lightly, and one that creates a delicate balance for him in 2016. The Ryder Cup will be played Sept. 27-Oct. 2 at Hazeltine National a week after the FedExCup Playoffs conclude.
Love smiled as he remembered a conversation he had with one of his pro-am partners at the PNC Father-Son Challenge last month. The two men were standing on the fifth green at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club when the amateur spoke up.
"So, when do you start working on Ryder Cup stuff," he asked.
"Well, since we've teed off I've gotten five emails," Love replied. "And he goes, really? I'm like, yeah, we've been at this a year already. Literally we had our first task force meeting the Monday before the Father-Son last year, so we have been at this intensely for a year.
"People think, well, when do you pick your team? That's a minor detail. The team gets handed to me, eight of them at least. ... And that's what is fun about it. There's so much to do, and then we can shift gears in July or August, and all it is is golf from then on."
So 2016 will be a busy year for Love. But it's a challenge that he relishes -- and one that keeps him young.
The win in Greensboro last August was the 21st of Love's career and made him the third-oldest champion in TOUR history. His victories span four decades.
Love already is a lifetime member of the PGA TOUR, but he won’t have to rely on that status for the next two years. The exemption earned from his Wyndham Championship win will last until he’s 53, an age when most of his peers will have a few PGA TOUR Champions seasons under their belt.
"I can back myself up a little bit," he explained. "I kept saying, ‘I'm going to play the regular TOUR. I'm going to play my 30th season.’ ... The only thing is ... like LeBron James said to Dr. (Bob) Rotella about shooting free throws and lining up jumpers, he had in his mind a little bit of doubt. Rotella says, we can fix that. ... You're a pretty good athlete.
"A little bit of doubt creeps in, and then you're not in the 125, and then you're taking up a spot because of your lifetime exemption. So I was getting to the point, where I was like, God, I don't want to be out here taking up (space) -- and now I'm excited about next year ... because I have a two-year exemption from winning."
Love admits there have been times over the last few years when he wondered how much longer he would physically be able to compete. The former PGA champ had spinal fusion surgery on his neck in 2013, an operation not unlike the one NFL quarterback Peyton Manning underwent, while also having some bone spurs removed.
"I was starting to wonder, am I done?" Love said. "I don't want to be done. I don't want to not go to THE PLAYERS again, I don't want to not go to the Masters. ... I felt like mentally and experience-wise I could do it, I just didn't know if physically (I could compete)."
Adding to the uncertainty? Well, the lanky veteran then missed two months of last season as he recovered from reconstructive surgery on a couple of joints in his right foot. He also had several toes straightened and some bones shortened. A hip replacement could be on the horizon in the not-too-distant future, as well.
"Scott Verplank said last year, does everything hurt when you play golf?" Love recalled. "I said, yeah, pretty much. And I'm starting to feel it, that I've worn my parts out."
Bookend 64s at the Wyndham Championship and the one-stroke win over Jason Gore said otherwise. And now Love finds himself starting the New Year on Maui, where he won the unofficial Kapalua International twice and has two top-four finishes in five starts at Kapalua in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.
"One of my big goals was to get back in Kapalua," Love said.
Love will actually be in the 50th state for three consecutive weeks. He’s also playing the Sony Open in Hawaii and the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai on the PGA TOUR Champions circuit.
He's going there to win. But Love also has ulterior motives.
His Ryder Cup team likely will have a very different look than the 2012 team that took a four-point lead into the singles only to be overtaken by an epic comeback from Jose Maria Olazabal's team. Three U.S. mainstays -- Jim Furyk, Steve Stricker and Tiger Woods, who is on the IR and may not even play this year -- recently were announced as assistant captains.
"We announced them for two reasons: For people to say, hey, no matter what some people are saying, these guys are committed, Tiger on down, and so the players," Love said. "When we go to (a tournament), if Jimmy Walker wants to ask Jim Furyk a question and not bother me, he knows that Jim Furyk is his assistant captain at the start of the year."
Tom Lehman, who was the 2006 Ryder Cup captain and is a Minnesota native, also is assisting Love. A fifth assistant captain will be announced later in the year.
Of those three recent appointments, Furyk has the best chance of actually making the team. He's ranked 10th entering the 2016 season while Woods and Stricker are 36th and 37th, respectively.
But Furyk, who was an assistant captain with Love on Jay Haas' 2015 Presidents Cup team after a wrist injury rendered him unable to compete, is taking his responsibilities seriously.
"Jim Furyk calls me evey other week, hey, what can I do," Love said. "... I could text Tiger Woods right now and say, I've got a Ryder Cup question. He'll call me.
"It's completely different than it was last time around because I didn't make enough of an effort to be a coach and make a team, but that's the way it was."
Toward that end, Love plans to kill two birds with one stone, when he plays in PGA TOUR events this year. He'll be ready to compete on Thursday but he's also focused on getting to know the prospective players on his team.
Love's interest in forging new relationships is well-founded. The 2016 U.S. Ryder Cup teams is shaping up to be one of the youngest in recent history. Spieth, who currently leads the points list will be 23 when the matches are played Sept. 30-Oct. 2.
And Love knows he's the elder statesman in the locker room. Hitting home? His son Dru, a junior who plays at Alabama, was born the same year as Spieth and Justin Thomas, who picked up his first TOUR win last fall.
Earlier this season, Love played with the 27-year-old Fowler and Jimmy Walker the first two rounds at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. He and Fowler each shot 5 under for 36 holes, while Walker was four strokes better. Dru was in the locker room talking with a couple of players after his dad was finished.
"They said, we think it's so cool that your dad is still out here playing with us," Love said. "I think that makes it okay that I'm going to be 52 when I'm Ryder Cup captain, because they see me every week. They know me. ...
"And I know that there was a conversation on the other side of the locker room that Rickie said, yeah, he shot the same thing and he's a grandpa, or something like that. But for that reason, I'm not as old to them because I'm out there playing with them."
Love also stays in touch with the younger generation of players by hosting College Golf Fellowship retreats at his sprawling Sea Island home. He gets to see the next generation compete at the Jones Cup Invitational at nearby Ocean Forest Golf Club. Thomas, who played at Alabama with Dru, stayed at Love’s home while competing in Jones Cup, which he won in 2012.
Plus, he has an ace in the hole.
"Like the other day I needed Jordan's number," Love said, grinning. "I asked Dru for it. So if I need Hunter Stewart's number or Justin Thomas's number or just right on down the list, Dru has got their number because he's their bud."
Love plans to take advantage of his two-year exemption and play a full schedule in 2016. Truth be told, he'd love to make the Ryder Cup team and hand off the official speeches to Lehman but he knows that goal probably isn't realistic.
"I'd have to play my rear end off to get in the top eight, and I wouldn't do it unless I felt like I was one of the best eight," Love said. "(European captain) Darren Clarke says if he made it, he wouldn't play, and I told him, and I said in a press conference, I'm not that nice. If I made it, I'd want my team bag with clubs in it, not for pictures."
Regardless of where he should end up on the Ryder Cup points list, though, Love will savor the chances he has to play in events like THE PLAYERS, where he is a two-time champion, and the Masters. He was born the Monday after his father, the noted instructor, held a share of the first-round lead at the Masters in 1964.
This year's appearance at Augusta National will be Love's 20th, but his first since 2011. He was runner-up twice, once to Ben Crenshaw in 1995 as both men tried to come to grips with the death of a mentor in Harvey Penick Jr., and again to Jose Maria Olazabal four years later as he completed a comeback from a debilitating foot injury.
Love will joke that his fortunes during turkey season have improved in recent years. But make no mistake -- Love, who finally got his major breakthrough at the 1997 PGA, is thrilled to be back in the Masters field, along with THE PLAYERS, which he's missed the last two years.
"I was always good at getting ready," said Love, who won five tournaments the week <i>after</i> the Masters. "I was always ready at Greensboro, always ready at PLAYERS, Hilton Head. ... I couldn't nail it down for Augusta week, but I was ready to play because I played good the next week."
Love isn't sure how much longer he'll play the PGA TOUR before renewing acquaintances on the Champions. He wants to play as long as he's competitive -- and he'd love to be around should Dru get his TOUR card, although that lifetime exemption will give Love opportunities as long as he wants.
"Three or four years ago, I was really cocky about it, and now I get up some mornings and go, oh, man, I can't keep up with these guys," Love said. "And I played with Justin Thomas and Dru at RSM, and Dru hit it 15 to 20 by me and Justin Thomas hit it 20 to 30 by me. It's coming."
At the recent PNC Father-Son Challenge, Love said his son often would unleash such a big drive that he'd tell his father, who was known for his prodigious length when he joined the TOUR, that he didn't need tee it up.
"I hit one off one hole, and I went, you don't have to hit, Dru," Love recalled. "That's all I've got. You can't get by it. And sure enough, he hit it right beside me.
"So I know distance-wise and physically, it's going to go, and I think I've always been realistic about the way I look at the TOUR business as a board member. I'm just here for a little bitty time. You've got to do what's best for the TOUR, not for this season, not for this group of guys, but in general.
"I've seen the TOUR without Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. It's going to pass by Tiger Woods and Greg Norman and Davis Love and it'll pass by Jordan Spieth, too. It's hard to imagine, but it will."
But Love is hanging on just a little bit longer.
Davis Love III turns back the clock in 2015