Davis Love III was busy with his tractor and chainsaws last week, clearing roads and driveways on Georgia’s St. Simons Island, where tour pros and locals refer to one of the newest members of the World Golf Hall of Fame as “Uncle Davis.” As the victorious Ryder Cup captain told me while cooking brisket in a smoker for weekend guests at his farm, “they call me to get something they can’t get out of a phone book.”
The aftermath of Hurricane Matthew kept Love busy not just cutting limbs and branches, but also feeding some of the emergency workers after he returned to the island by boat while the locals—including Love’s family—were under mandatory evacuation.
When the power returned, so did the residents—and the acclaim. When he’s in town, Love can often be found at the local hardware store, when he isn’t on the practice ground at Sea Island or the Southern Soul Barbeque that he partially owns. And as Love told me, it became harder and harder to get off the island when the news of his selection into the Hall of Fame broke on Oct. 18. Coming on the heels of his triumphant Ryder Cup captaincy in Minnesota, the result was non-stop congratulations.
“Everybody, literally everybody, looks and stops me,” Love said. “I’m amazed every day what a big deal it is.”
This local support and the text messages he received from the golf community reflect Jack Nicklaus’ tribute to Love. “Davis always had the bigger picture in mind,” Nicklaus said. “It hasn’t always been about Davis."
It’s why young players such as Harris English, Patton Kizzire, Bobby Wyatt, Hudson Swafford and Trey Mullinax migrate to St. Simons, and why Love’s name was already on all the good-guy awards (Payne Stewart, Bob Jones, Golden Tee and Jim Murray) when PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem called with the news about the Hall of Fame.
Nobody would have been prouder than Love’s father, Davis Love Jr., the renowned instructor who lost his life in a plane crash 28 years ago. Nobody was prouder than Love’s mother, Penta, who was there when the rainbow appeared over the 18th green at Winged Foot as Davis won the 1997 PGA Championship.
One of those critical workers Love housed after the storm was Michael Popa, whose father John, was flying with Davis’ father on the day of the crash in 1988. “I think Davis was getting more personal fulfillment being able to clean up the community than he did immediately after the Ryder Cup,” Popa said. “That’s the epitome of his personality.”
Love’s playing record included the PGA and two Players Championships among his 21 career victories. His 20th PGA Tour win, in 2008, was the benchmark needed to change the conversation from what Love hadn’t accomplished (30 runner-up finishes including the 1996 U.S. Open) to what he had over the first 23 years of his career. Then in 2015, at age 51, he came back from neck and back surgeries to become the third oldest winner in tour history with a victory in the Wyndham Championship.
But what resonates more than Love’s competitive record has been his legacy as a sportsman. The biggest compliment in Love’s life, the most direct reflection of the way he was raised, occurred at the Presidents Cup when Arnold Palmer was captain in 1996. While addressing the United States team on how to comport themselves, Palmer singled out Love by saying, “Davis understands what I’m talking about.”
That’s another thing you don’t find in the St. Simons phone book, but it’s there.
Editor's Note: This story first appeared in the Oct. 24, 2016 issue of Golf World.