The Ride Of His Life

Captain Davis Love III gets a Ryder Cup capper

October 2012

Ever since he joined the PGA Tour in 1985, an interview with Davis Love III, or even a chance meeting, has invariably been a professional pleasure.

His greeting carries a calm sincerity, his smile is genial, his manner gentle. Though he doesn't completely lack the forced positivity so common--and probably necessary--to a professional golfer, within those parameters he projects candor and intimacy, and an active mind that can be alternately enlightening and hard to pin down.

On this occasion, Love, 48, is wearing shorts and a T-shirt, and sitting in an airy shop with a tropical motif and a mouthful of a name--Davis Love III's Classic Paddle & Putt--in a quaint corner of St. Simons Island, Ga., the coastal town where Love and wife Robin have lived for more than 25 years.

Though the store carries decorative golf paraphernalia, including designer putters, it primarily sells stand-up paddle boards and surf wear. Love was introduced to the pastime a couple of years ago by surfing stalwart Buzzy Kerbox, and he fell for it as avidly as he has embraced fishing, hunting, snowboarding, motorcycling and other avocations that provide periodic escapes from his profession. When locals would see him cruising atop the gentle Atlantic waves common to the Golden Isles, they began asking where they could get a board. Love says he thought, Let's open a shop, help start a new sport, provide some jobs, and maybe make a little money.

Love has a bond with the area. His father, Davis Love Jr., who died at 53 in a small-plane crash in 1988 that also took the life of his son's best friend, Jimmy Hodges, as well as John Popa and Chip Worthington, taught at the Sea Island Golf Club. Today it's where Davis and his teenage son, Dru, often practice and play, and where Love helps host the PGA Tour's McGladrey Classic. He uses an office in town as headquarters for his youth foundation and golf-design business. In appreciation of such community involvement, in 1998 the state of Georgia named a section of I-95 the Davis Love III Freeway, the resolution reading, in part, "Whereas he is a true Southern gentleman and family man..."

Visitors to the shop clearly recognize Love, but in a switch it is the celebrity who initiates conversation. For all of Love's accomplishments--being one of history's transformatively powerful hitters; winning 20 PGA Tour events, including one rainbow-ribboned major at the 1997 PGA and two Players Championships; teaming with Fred Couples to win four consecutive World Cups by an aggregate of 34 strokes; and, most recently, being chosen U.S. captain for the Ryder Cup matches Sept. 28-30--he might ultimately be remembered as his era's least-selfish star.

That quality comes through everywhere Love goes. A few days before, in Manhattan, at the Fifth Avenue boutique of a watch company Love represents, he donned a white lab coat and a magnifying loupe for a publicity shot. But rather than just pose, Love painstakingly tried to adjust the bracelet of his new timepiece under the direction of watchmaker Caitlin Andrews. As he gave the small muscles that sometimes betray him on and around the greens a workout, he engaged Andrews about her job. As Love left, she reflexively said, "Sweet guy."

Observing love in such settings, the word that unavoidably comes to mind is "soft." It's a mostly wonderful quality to have in life, but maybe not so helpful in competitive golf. Even when he has blitzed the field, Love has never come off as a killer, and his record supports the impression. The 26 times he has held a lead entering the final round, he has gone on to win only 11 times. He is 2-7 lifetime in playoffs, and 9-12-5 in six Ryder Cups. It seems he should have gotten higher than a best of second in the World Golf Ranking, and he should have won more than one major. By the coldly subjective standards used to measure the supremely gifted, he has been an underachiever.

"All I've ever heard from other players about Davis is 'the talent, the talent, the talent,' " says Gio Valiante, a sport psychologist who has worked with Love. "But as a golfer, his innate kindness doesn't really fuel a lot of winning. Davis reminds me of what Voltaire said about a gifted artist named Beaumarchais: 'He'll never be Molière because he prefers his life to his work.' "

Love's longtime manager, Mac Barnhardt, who before their professional relationship met Love in college, puts it another way. "If Davis had been self-centered, Tiger Woods would not have been such a big deal."

On the other hand, among the bunch of alpha males who will make up the U.S. team, Love's brand of softness might be the right complement. His favorite part of being one of Corey Pavin's assistants in 2010 was simple service.

Davis Love III

"At Wales," Love says, "I told the PGA, 'Look, I don't ever have to be captain. I'll come every year, just be a guy behind the scenes, getting the towels, getting the yardage books. I love that stuff.' "

Spoken like a man who has grinded out four terms as a player director on the PGA Tour's Policy Board, a post often referred to by those who have done it only once as a thankless job.

"Davis enjoys making people happy, and he'll sacrifice to do it," says PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem. "At the same time, he's a natural-born leader. He's balanced, he's smart, he doesn't overreact. He can see the key points in complex subjects, and he thinks things through before he talks. You add those things together, and that's why people pay attention when he says something."

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