Hazeltine National President Jim Andersen’s voice quavered. “Boy,” he said. “I’m shaking!”
Members of the golf club were similarly aflutter on Sunday. A little more than a year before Hazeltine will host the Ryder Cup, American captain Davis Love III made his first visit to the brawny course since playing in the PGA Championship in 2009.
Andersen addressed Love with shaking hands and made him an honorary Hazeltine member. Members wore their Hazeltine Ryder Cup shirts and posed for a photo with Love, Andersen, PGA Chief Championships Officer Kerry Haigh and Patrick Hunt, the general chairman of the 2016 Ryder Cup.
Love played a round with Haigh to assess the course and begin preparations in earnest for the world’s most emotional golf competition, four years after his captaincy resulted in a stunning European comeback victory at Medinah.
“I’ve said this at several junctures, and I said it again when we landed at the Minneapolis airport [Saturday] night — ‘Oh, boy, here we go again,’ ” Love said.
He said that and all things with a smile Sunday, even though few recent American Ryder Cup memories are pleasant.
Europe has won seven of the past nine Cups. Davis has been a key figure in many of the losses. During the last Ryder Cup, captain Tom Watson criticized his team and drew the ire of players such as Phil Mickelson. At Medinah in 2012, Love’s pairings and leadership helped the United States to a large lead entering the Sunday singles matches, only to see Europe stage a withering rally to win again.
In the wake of the American meltdown under Watson, the PGA of America formed an all-star task force of veteran players and former captains to address the Euros’ dominance.
“It’s a lot of information in guys’ heads that really wasn’t getting shared,” Love said. “We’ve seen the Europeans. They’ve had good systems and a good plan and good continuity from year to year and that’s the thing for us. We’re all talking — Tiger [Woods], Phil [Mickelson], [Jim] Furyk — all the time. They’ve really committed to helping me this time. That’s the biggest thing — to have their support, their energy and their passion all combined into one.”
Love will help oversee the setup of Hazeltine for the Ryder Cup, He thinks a tough setup, like that of a PGA Championship or U.S. Open, will favor the Americans. Even though the Americans took a large lead through two days at Medinah, Love said his team should be better prepared for Hazeltine.
He wants himself and his assistant captains to play the course often and for key American players to visit next summer.
“I was an assistant to Corey Pavin when he was captain, but I didn’t use Corey Pavin enough when I was captain,” Love said. “I had Tom Kite, Lanny Wadkins and Curtis Strange as my captains. I didn’t use them to my advantage when I was a captain.
“I think we’ve all sat down in a room four or five times and talked about ways that the Ryder Cup can get better and the way that we can play better. All that information and all that leadership coming together has formed a new energy behind what the captains and the assistant captains are doing.
“We have a game plan now. Like Phil said, we’re not going to win the next 10 in a row, but let’s try to win seven of the next 10. Let’s get a game plan and stick with it.”
Love had the U.S. positioned for a dominating victory at Medinah. His team didn’t lose because of planning or a lack of committee meetings. The U.S. lost because key veteran players, including Steve Stricker and Furyk, missed important putts.
Sunday, on a beautiful day at Hazeltine, Love sounded optimistic, and his arrival energized the Hazeltine membership, but it was Andersen’s shaking hands that provided the most important reminder about Ryder Cup competition.
Picking players who can calm their nerves and make putts will be Love’s most important task.