Davis Love III: Captain America

There is a Southern gentlemanly way about Davis Love III. He moves with that floating gait of his and I don’t think I’ve ever seen him upset or agitated.

He was very emotional when he won the 1997 PGA Championship. His father was a club professional and great teacher who died an untimely death in a plane crash in 1988. That championship will always be known as the one where a club pro’s son was leading the rainy tournament and as he walked up the 18th fairway, the sun came out and a brilliant rainbow arced across the sky behind the green. People wept.

He was very emotional in previous Ryder Cups — how can you not be? — but it was sort of a reserved joy, almost like he had a governor on his emotions. As I said, a Southern gentleman.

When he would be interviewed by the media he was always thoughtful, well-spoken and eager to be helpful. You never had the sense that he had somewhere else he needed to be. A Southern gentleman.

He won 20 PGA Tour events including his major, 2 International events and 10 “off-season” events (e.g. World Cup, JC Penney Classic and Tiger’s World Challenge). But you always had the sense that with all of his talent, he could have won more. Losing his father also meant that he lost his coach, the guy he could call after a round and talk about every shot…and who wanted to hear about them all.

His big-arc, upright swing was a thing of mesmerizing beauty, but when his putting started to falter, there was a vulnerability all of a sudden that hadn’t been there before. And you wondered just how tough he was. His quiet demeanor only added to that wonder. And always the Southern gentleman.

So when he was announced as the Ryder Cup captain two years ago, it was certainly his turn, but was he ready? He had had a ton of Ryder Cup and President Cup experience, but was he ready to be the captain? Was he tough enough. Could he come up out of himself and be a passionate leader? In the incredible pressure of the matches, would he make a confident, decisive puppeteer?

Now he is suddenly getting a lot of attention, not just because he’s the captain — we’ve been hearing from him regularly — but because it’s finally the Ryder Cup week. And as his media sessions and sit-down interviews on the Golf Channel have unfolded this week, he has revealed himself to be an almost perfect pick.

He is calm. He is thoughtful. He exhibits a complex, experienced understanding of all that he will be called on to do this week. He has a sense of the history of the Ryder Cup and the lessons learned. As he says, his job is already 95% done, the only thing left is the pairings and creating the conditions for the players to play their best.

As to the pairings, the best kind of leader is one who allows things to unfold organically in a tight-knit, high-trust organization where there is a high premium on collaboration among the team members. And so he sent them all out to play on Tuesday:

Just trying to get everybody on the golf course and organized and playing with guys that they were going to have fun with.  Not much rocket science in it except getting guys out there happy and having a few matches and playing first day really for everybody at the same time to see the golf course.  So we just wanted to get them out there one time around and talk about how we want to play tomorrow.

But Monday night, he created the conditions and laid the groundwork for that team to all be out on the course together:

Well, we had a great night.  We had one incredible big table for dinner.  It’s hard to do that once the week gets going, everybody sitting at the same table.  Some great gifts presented by The PGA of America.  It was a lot of fun.

We have an incredible team room.  The PGA of America has done an incredible job with the hotel and the guys and girls were just blown away.  A lot table tennis was played, and just good fun, and everybody went to bed early.  It was shocking.  I think they realize they had a long week last week and they have a long week this week — it was 10:00 and it was cleared out.  Either that or they wanted to go watch the second half of the football game, one of the two.

His input even gets down to how the course is going to be setup. Because he has a number of long players, the fairways will not pinch down at the 280-yard mark and the rough won’t be brutal as the Europeans defensively set their courses up. He intends for the course to be fair, fun, but not easy:

We want it to be fun for the players and we want it to be fun for the fans.  And we want to keep Tommy Roy (NBC executive producer) over in the trucks happy and see some birdies.  And I think it’s set up like that.  I wouldn’t be surprised if anybody complained.  I’ve never heard a player come in and go, well, the golf course was way too easy.  They are always complaining about it’s too hard or the pins are too tough or the greens are too fast.

Even last week, those guys said they were really, really fast, and we don’t want them that fast this week.  We are not looking for easy; we are looking for fun.  And these matches ought to be, I think some holes ought to be won with birdies and not all with bunch of pars and you lose a hole because you make a bogey or a double.  I don’t think that’s as much fun.

We all know that Michael Jordan is a golf nut. But did you remember that it was Davis Love who introduced him to the game when they were going to school at North Carolina? Michael’s roommate and Davis played a lot of golf together and the rest was inevitable.

Fred Couples first had the idea of recruiting Jordan to be part of the Presidents Cup team as an assistant captain and Davis thought he should be included again in a way that he wanted:

His role is, since probably, I guess ’95 maybe, he’s been to every Ryder Cup.  He just loves it.

I know there’s a lot of people in this gallery that can say the same thing, but there’s very few guys that are ever called best athlete in the world that come and follow every Ryder Cup match.  So he was an assistant for Fred and I asked him what he wanted to do this week; did he want to come in and hang out.  I know Fred has already been hanging out with him some.  But he’s entertaining, watching, and we’re going to have him in the team room if he wants to come in, or we’re going to have him hang out in the locker room.  He’s just a good motivation for a lot of these guys that don’t know him.

He doesn’t have an official role except for he’s one of our buddies and we like having him around.  And I just ran into Bill Murray, Justin Timberlake, George Lopez, Tom Lehman; it’s pretty fun if you come in over there in our player dining or our locker room.  We’ve got a bunch of guys — Toby Keith is coming this weekend; Michael Phelps is out there playing today.  We have got a lot of people that have a lot of interest in The Ryder Cup, and that’s pretty cool.

Then he talked a little bit about the considerations of how to pair up his lynchpin, Tiger Woods, and just how much to play him:

Well, [Tiger] played a lot of times, so he’s going to end up with a lot of different partners.  I don’t think it’s tactically; just a guy that he’s comfortable with and then a guy — and just like anybody else, really.  Phil, who are you comfortable with; who do you like to play with.  And then somebody has to play in Phil’s bubble or somebody has to play in Tiger’s bubble, and I think that’s the challenge.  Steve Stricker has found his way into that pairing because he can handle everything that’s going on around Tiger.

It’s not just — everybody wants to be Tiger’s partner; everybody wants to be Dustin’s partner.  They hit it a long way and they make a lot of birdies.  It’s easier to play with Dustin probably or it’s easier to play with Jim Furyk than it is to pair a guy with Tiger, because you get the extra attention and the extra pressure, and if there’s five people watching inside the ropes from the media watching me play, there’s 50 watching Tiger, and that’s just — you have to have a special guy to be able to handle that.  We’ve got a few on our team that can definitely handle it.  We don’t have a problem on this team pairing anybody.

We have a big issue, and that’s who has to sit out, because they are all playing well.  That’s the only — our assistants, every time we look at pairings, we go, how do you sit somebody out?  They are all playing great.

So Tiger is pretty easy.  It’s just ask him if he wants to play three or four or five matches, and there’s a lot of guys that want to play with him.

These answers are just snippets from his much more extensive, thoughtful interview on Tuesday that make the point that the U.S. Ryder Cup team is, indeed, in good hands with Davis Love at the helm. He goes into more detail than I can’t fit in here about his thinking on other pairings. You can read the entire interview ASAP Sports.

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