Raised in Atlanta by a renowned teaching golf-pro father who inspired him to excel in an individualistic sport, Davis Love III comes to Minnesota this week for a competition that for a few fleeting days every two years is all about team.
And that’s good by him.
A son of the South, he shares something with Minnesotans who by the tens of thousands will cheer his U.S. team against Europe in the Ryder Cup that starts Friday at Hazeltine National Golf Club.
Like many of them, he loves hockey.
His father, Davis Jr., was the pro at Atlanta Country Club, where members often offered unused season tickets to Braves baseball and Hawks basketball games. Davis Jr.’s young son often asked if there were any for the new team and new game in town, Flames hockey. At least he did before the franchise moved to Calgary when he was 16.
“Tom Lysiak and Boom Boom Geoffrion,” he remembers now. “That was my sport other than golf, and it was great. I became a fan.”
He also became fond of team sports, discovering a perspective beyond the self-centered nature that defines golf. As an assistant captain for the 2010 Ryder Cup and 2015 Presidents Cup teams, he tended to the smallest details, whether he stood at the hotel elevator to make sure all 12 players were properly dressed for the day or plugged in his own golf cart during the Korean night to charge it for the next day.
“I’d be behind the scenes on any of these teams because it’s fun to be part of the team,” Love said. “I’d be the stick guy for the Wild for sure and hand out the sticks when they break just because I like to be part of a team.”
That’s partly why Love is back as U.S. captain for the second time in four years. He was hired by a PGA of America “task force” newly convened after the American side split — star Phil Mickelson on one side, captain Tom Watson the other — for all the world to see in a news conference not an hour after it lost in Scotland two years ago.
He leads a team that now has lost eight of the past 10 Ryder Cups, including a Sunday singles collapse for which Love was captain his first time around in 2012. This time, he was picked by that task force comprising current players, past captains and PGA of America officials who sought a fresh future by reaching into the past.
PGA of America President Derek Sprague calls Love the right man because he’s a “great leader” and “good consensus builder” who can bring together everyone from his chosen vice captains (including Tiger Woods and Minnesota’s own Tom Lehman) and past captains to the 12 players chosen for the team.
“The thing Davis has going for him is he has done it before,” Lehman said. “I think he understands a lot better the way guys think and the kind of communication they need. I’m sure he’ll be better than he was the first time, and I thought he was pretty good the first time.”
In an attempt to reverse the U.S. team’s course since the 1990s, Love and the PGA of America have worked for nearly two years to involve the best American players and create a comprehensive program Love likens to Jerry Colangelo’s USA Basketball program.
By doing so, Love hopes his 12 players feel more ownership in “their team” and bring back success not just for Hazeltine in 2016 but the next five or 10 Ryder Cups as well.
“It’s a new era of the Ryder Cup,” Love said. “We’re going to move forward and not think about the past. We’re obviously going to learn from the past, but we’re building a team for the future. It’s like new ownership, a new front office.”
For his part, Love said he believes he is wiser and better prepared. He said if he could have a “mulligan” from 2012, he’d truly listen and rely more upon such past captains as Lanny Wadkins, Tom Kite and Ray Floyd, among others, and learn from his mistakes.
One such mistake: Love said he spent too much time in the media room at Medinah after Saturday’s sessions, when he and his team “were glowing” in a four-point lead.
“We had both President Bushes back at the hotel to give a speech, and I wasn’t there,” Love said.
If that happens this time, Woods is all prepared to speak to the team, his message already agreed upon whether the Americans are down one point or ahead three.
“Why do we need motivational speakers to come in when I have Tiger Woods, Jim Furyk and Tom Lehman?” Love asked.
Love speaks of his captaincy in team sports analogies, comparing captain’s picks decisions to an NFL general manager who can’t draft a quarterback when he needs a running back or a hockey team that needs a checking line to complement its scoring line.
By the way, Love hasn’t played recreational hockey for several years because of back, neck and now hip surgeries. But he hopes to do so again near a winter home in Sun Valley, Idaho.
“I do have a new pair of skates that need to get broken in,” he said. “Maybe after this is all over with, I will.”