Davis Love III’s focus turns to the Presidents CupU.S. Captain wants momentum from Whistling Straits to continue at Quail Hollow
October 01, 2021
By Helen Ross , PGATOUR.COM
Captain Trevor Immelman and Davis Love III celebrate one year until the 2022 Presidents Cup
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Midnight may have been a metaphor of sorts but judging from the raucous celebration after the United States scored a crushing 19-9 victory over Europe in the Ryder Cup, the conversation could easily have happened in real time.
Over the next 24 hours, the team that Steve Stricker had created to take back the gold chalice would disband and go their separate ways. But at least one person in the United States’ team room was already looking ahead even as the champagne flowed.
“We just got done with it on Sunday, and the guys said, ‘Are you going home? What are you doing?’” Davis Love III recalled. “And I go, ‘No, I'm going to Presidents Cup.’ Midnight it starts Presidents Cup year. So that's the way our guys look at it.
“They get to do it every year, they shift gears, but we are trying to build Team USA golf year-round.”
True to his word, Love, who will captain the U.S. Team when it takes on the Internationals at Quail Hollow Club next year left Wisconsin and headed to Charlotte, North Carolina, for three days of Presidents Cup kickoff festivities. The biennial event will be held Sept. 19-25, 2022.Davis Love III (left) and Trevor Immelman (right) with NASCAR legend Jimmie Johnson (middle). (Keyur Khamar/PGA TOUR)
Love was joined by International Captain Trevor Immelman in stops at venues downtown, as well as two evening events at Quail Hollow, a course that will be familiar to both teams after hosting the Wells Fargo Championship every year but once since 2003. The one year it didn’t? Well, that was in 2017 when the United States’ Justin Thomas won the PGA Championship there.
The two captains had a police escort as they drove their team golf carts to the NASCAR Hall of Fame where Jimmie Johnson, an 83-time winner, was a surprise tour guide, and Spectrum Center, where NBA legend Michael Jordan’s Charlotte Hornets play. At the HOF, Love and Immelman received fire-retardant suits with their names on the back – “I know what my Halloween costume is now,” the International captain said -- then tried their luck in the race simulator.
“I'm a little embarrassed at how many cars I wrecked in the simulator,” said a sheepish Love, who has actually driven around a real track with the likes of Denny Hamlin and Kyle Petty.
Love and Immelman also visited the Carolina Panthers and had a corn-hole chipping contest with a pair of retired Carolina Panthers, five-time Pro Bowl tight end Wesley Walls and linebacker Thomas Davis, who was the Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2014. Later they appeared almost in miniature as they looked at a gigantic mural painted on two sides of the Duke Energy Center which features, among other things, their faces and the logo of the Presidents Cup.
“I got to my room yesterday, opened the curtains and I saw Davis’ head,” Immelman said, laughing. “I had to shut it straightaway. I was like, what is this? He’s already playing mind games over here.”
For Love, this will mark the third time he has served as captain of a U.S. team, each time on home soil. He is 1-1 as a Ryder Cup skipper, losing in 2012 to Europe’s “Miracle at Medinah” and returning four years later to lead a victorious U.S. side at Hazeltine. Love earned the rare shot at Ryder Cup redemption thanks to the task force that was formed amidst the fallout from the Americans’ loss two years earlier in Scotland. Being given a second chance was testament to his popularity with the players.Davis Love III and Trevor Immelman with Thomas Davis (left), Wesley Walls (right) and the Panthers' mascot "Sir Purr" (middle). (Keyur Khamar/PGA TOUR)
The 57-year-old Charlotte native and World Golf Hall of Famer also has been an assistant on three Presidents Cup and two Ryder Cup teams, including the one that trounced the Europeans last weekend at Whistling Straits.
Love calls the most recent U.S. Team, which included eight of the top 10 players in the world and likely will form the nucleus of his team at Quail Hollow – and many more American squads to come, “really, really confident.” The average age of the Americans was 29.1, with Dustin Johnson, at 37, the old man of the team.
“These guys just think they're going to win every time they go play,” Love said. “You've probably been around Patrick Cantlay a little bit; he's a very confident young man. And so is Dustin. And so is (Collin) Morikawa. He's very quiet, but he's a quiet 50-year-old. He's just so steady and so good.”
Love credited the experience gained in junior golf, as well as exceptional coaching and training, with the poise and determination he saw on offer last week. He said he was surprised by how many people the players had on their personal support teams.
“Even though it was the pandemic, I saw more coaches at a Ryder Cup than I've ever seen,” Love noted. “We didn't have that in 1993. Nobody had a coach with him. Nobody had a trainer with them. Nobody even knew what a bodywork person was. We had eight or nine people at the hotel or at the club taking care of guys. So, it's a different generation.”
To Stricker’s credit, Love said, he noticed that shift and made accommodations for it. Formal dinners and rah-rah speeches were kept to a minimum – “Maybe it makes them nervous,” Love reasoned -- so the players could keep to a more normal schedule. Forget the epic ping-pong battles of yore. These guys wanted to rest so they could be at their best the next day.
“I mean, literally one night there was only X-Man (Xander Schauffle) and Brooks (Koepka) still up,” Love noted. “One night it was Brooks who was the only one up, working out.
“And Dustin, Sunday morning, now he's down there at 6:30 and he's bopping around and he goes, ‘Hey, I was in bed at nine o'clock.’ People wouldn't believe that -- if you would see Dustin Johnson, the celebrity, you would think, oh, it's party, party, party, party, party. He does ... on Sunday.”
In a word, Love was impressed by the discipline he saw on the team. He remembers Cantlay coming to him and telling him he’d finished practicing and working out, but he needed to get his bodywork – a form of therapy that helps realign and reposition the body – done. That meant he’d be 45 minutes late for dinner.
“That’s how disciplined they are,” Love said.
Cantlay also needed three or four hours to warm up and prepare for a match. That meant 7:05 a.m. tee times were a non-starter.
“It’s just different, and Steve just had it dialed in,” Love said. “Freddie and I are just sitting back, holy cow, we're old. They do it differently than we did.
“So, we have to adapt to give them what they need to get ready.”
Often, team meetings, if you will, were held in a room upstairs at the Whistling Straits clubhouse while they waited for the traffic to thin. Stricker would tell the players who was practicing together and what format to play. Grab dinner in the team room and you could go to bed.
“I remember (Tom) Watson coming in late one night when we were playing Pass the Pigs and Jenga and all the games that somebody brought in ‘93 and he goes, ‘You guys have to go to bed. You have to play golf tomorrow,’” Love laughed. “This is the opposite with these guys like, where is everybody? We had this big, gorgeous team room and I'd walk in and go, where is everybody?
“And we knew they weren't anywhere else because you couldn't go anywhere else. They weren't allowed to go. … One night, they had a family thing of people that were in the bubble. And they got to go to the little restaurant, right beside the parking garage, The Horse & Plow and say hi to their parents. And that was it, the only thing they were allowed to do.
“It was a weird Ryder Cup for the veterans like us. Where's the pomp and circumstance? But it was also weird that they were always ready to go -- and they played unbelievable.”
Love said he knew after the U.S. won the first session, 3-1, that the Americans would retake the Ryder Cup. It wasn’t at all like three years ago in Paris when the U.S. took the opening Four-balls by a similar margin but didn’t win a Foursomes match in the afternoon.
“We had issues,” Love said of Paris. “We were jumbling pairings in afternoon. We didn't know what we were going to do for Saturday. You know, Phil and Tiger weren't playing good, and Patrick was not playing great. We didn't know what was going on.
“This team -- all you had to do is shoot them to their tee times and they were going to roll.”
Love said there will be debriefings in the coming months, as has been the case with every U.S. Team event since the task force was formed, to zero in on what worked and what didn’t. He plans to work on strengthening his relationships with some of the younger Americans – there were six rookies, for example, on this year’s team.
“I got to know Patrick Cantlay so well, and I got to know X-Man a lot better,” Love said. “Morikawa, I don't know. It's a hard egg to crack in one week. He's still a young, shy kid, even though he's a major champion. So, I've got some work to do on getting to know guys, but Brooks and the Dustin and those guys -- they're tired of me.”After a close battle at Royal Melbourne, the 2022 Presidents Cup is shaping to be a photo finish. (Keyur Khamar/PGA TOUR)
The International Team, on the other hand, is at a crossroads similar to where the U.S. found itself after the 2013 Ryder Cup. It’s only win in the competition came in 1998, although the two teams famously tied in 2003 in Immelman’s native South African.
Ernie Els captained the 2019 team at Royal Melbourne and the match was competitive, with the U.S. winning by just two points thanks to a comeback in Singles. He created a shield for a logo and a sense of identity for a team that draws its members from countries across the globe outside of Europe.
“They're catching up and that's a problem,” Love said. “I'm going to remind our guys and say, ‘Hey, look what they did in Australia.’ Now they're going to be kind of an easier place for them to play. And they're going to have three years of preparation.
“They're not just sitting back going I hope we win. They're planning on how they can win. … Obviously on paper, it's pretty even. We have a slight advantage right now on paper, but you can see in the Ryder Cup, we always have a huge advantage in Ryder Cup and we lose it a lot.
“So, it can happen very easily.”
Love actually was serving on the PGA TOUR’s Policy Board in 1993 when former PGA TOUR Commissioner Tim Finchem proposed the matches to be played in opposite years from the Ryder Cup. Within a year, the event became reality.
“Luckily it grew,” said Love, who played in the first six Presidents Cups and owns a 16-8-4 record overall. “Next thing you know, we're in Canada and Korea and South Africa and Australia, and it's become one of our favorite events.
“Obviously we're kind of partial to it because we win it a lot more than the Ryder Cup, but it's incredible how much it's grown since 1993, and it's become a favorite of our fans and of our players, and it's a big goal for our players to make these teams.
“I'm just glad that I saw the start of it, and now I'm -- hopefully this ends my Presidents Cup career. I've been at it a long time. … But what an honor to see it come this far since 1993.”