Love hoping for normalcy as Ryder Cup captain

Davis Love III plays a shot during the second round of the McGladrey Classic at Sea Island's Seaside Course.

Davis Love III plays a shot during the second round of the McGladrey Classic at Sea Island's Seaside Course.

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HONOLULU – His 26 years on the PGA Tour have earned Davis Love III dozens of friendships and a reputation as arguably one of the game’s most approachable players.

Love’s goal in 2012 is to maintain that landscape, though he knows that as owner of the title “Ryder Cup captain,” he will have to convince players not to walk gingerly around him.

Pointing to one of his playing competitors in the first round of the Sony Open, Love said, “That would be my goal this year, to talk to (players). I don’t want Sean O’Hair trying too hard, or trying to impress me, or worrying about that I’m watching. I’m going to have those conversations with players.”

Love has four captain’s picks and agrees that when it comes time for a decision, he’ll face his toughest challenge. Asked about his close friendships with colleagues who live in the St. Simons Island and Sea Island area on the Georgia coast such as Lucas Glover, Zach Johnson, Jonathan Byrd, Chris Kirk and Matt Kuchar, Love said it is something he thinks about.

“I want (those close relationships) to continue, and I think we’re good enough friends that they will continue,” Love said.

“Jonathan, I might worry about. Is he going to try too hard? He wants to make points. He’s excited about the Ryder Cup. He’s been playing well. He’s at the top of the list.

“But you want him to just go play golf, like we always try to get him to play – relax and play. With Lucas, be patient and play.”

Love knows what can happen in Ryder Cup years when players cross paths with the captain. In 1997, every time he played in a tournament with Tom Kite, Love said he put more pressure on himself to show the captain that he was gearing for the Ryder Cup.

“I don’t want players to get paired with me and think they’re on a tryout.”

Especially with the close friends from Sea Island, Love is pushing to maintain norm.

“I don’t want those guys I know well and see all the time to think they have to do anything different other than, ‘Hey, will you play a practice round with me at Kiawah?’ If I can help them that way, it’ll be great. But I don’t want them feeling any pressure or walking on eggshells.”

Love laughed when he recalled something from last year’s Masters, a throwaway moment when a couple of players cut in front of him to grab a tee box.

“One of them turned back and said, ‘We probably shouldn’t have done that,’ and I told them, ‘Don’t do it next year.’ ”

If he does anything in coming weeks, Love said it will be to approach as many players as possible and tell them to focus on their games.

“You don’t want them thinking that they don’t have to do anything differently, other than play their best,” he said.

• • •

BACK BROTHERS: Before starting the 2012 campaign, Pat Perez worked out nearly every day with Graham DeLaet at the Athletes Performance in Arizona.

When they opened the Sony Open with a 63 (DeLaet) and 67 (Perez), one would think they were in great shape and all was well. DeLaet said as much, but Perez was shaking his head after firing a 67 to get halfway home in 7-under 134.

“I had a pulled disk all of last year. I thought I got rid of it, so I’m not thrilled,” Perez said after visibly stretching out before two-putting for birdie at his 18th hole, the par-5 ninth.

“I felt great (back home). I don’t know if it’s the flight and the new bed, but all the walking (has flared it up again).”

Still, Perez managed to get it around pretty well. Giving credit to a set of greens that he heaped praise on, Perez said he was rolling it pretty well. After Tommy Armour III urged him most of last year to put a belly putter into the bag, Perez tried it in Mexico last month, loved it, and has it in play this week.

• • •

HEY, WHATEVER WORKS: When you sit back and reflect upon a season in which you ranked 153rd in the strokes gained putting category and 156th in total putting, well, it’s easy to understand why Daniel Summerhays went back to the drawing board for that part of his game.

But the stroke he finally came up with? It’s not exactly conventional, is it?

“Sort of a garage special,” he said with a smile.

Having fiddled and toyed with the putters he keeps in his garage, Summerhays settled on a belly putter. So far, so typical, because it seems as if everyone’s using the belly putter. But what Summerhays did with his grip is what separates him from most players; he puts the right hand low down the shaft, the left hand at the very top of the shaft, then anchors the top of the shaft under his left arm pit.

“It isolates my right side and engages my shoulders,” he said.

It was put into play for the second stage of Q-School, and when he then got through the final stage with a share of 18th, Summerhays figured to bring it out on tour with him.

“I had always practiced with the belly putter,” he said, “but the release just didn’t feel right.”

• • •

RANGE RAT: Speaking of belly putters, count Ryo Ishikawa among those who are intrigued by them, but not ready to trust them for competition.

Since late last year, Ishikawa has used the belly putter for lengthy chunks of time during practice days, but he still counts on the short one during competition.

Of course, it’s getting plenty of use, because Ishikawa’s practice sessions are impressive. A late entry into the Sony Open, the 20-year-old arrived at Waialae Country Club on Tuesday and put in 10 hours of practice.

That might be more than Carlo Franco’s total practice commitment during his PGA Tour career, though who knows? What we do know is, Ishikawa is going to have plenty more chances to work on his game in America, because he’s going to play in the Farmers Insurance Open, the Northern Trust Open, the Accenture Match Play Championship, the Cadillac Championship at Doral, the Transitions Championship and Arnold Palmer’s gathering at Bay Hill.

Somewhere in that stretch, Ishikawa will find time to go back to his native Japan, but it won’t be for golf. Instead, he’ll head to the snow-covered mountains and cross-country skiing, which he uses as conditioning.

He was accompanied to Honolulu by his father, Katsumi, and the mission that sits in front of Ishikawa is clear: He wants to get back within the top 50 in the world rankings, because he’s presently not exempt into the Masters.

• • •

MIND IF I JOIN YOU?: If Kevin Na did a double-take when one of his amateur partners came back with him to hit from the championship tees at the Wednesday pro-am, he soon discovered it was for good reason.

Hideki Matsuyama is the two-time Asian Amateur champion who in April will be playing again in the Masters. He was given a sponsor exemption into the Sony Open, and because he’s a massive draw in this city, it made sense to put him into the pro-am – as an amateur, of course.

Yet because he was going to compete against the pros, it also made sense for Matsuyama to play from the tees that Na used.

• • •

SLOW PLAY, FAST CLEANUP: As twilight settled in and the usual anxiety as to whether play would be completed rose, the competitors didn’t appear to be in a rush in Thursday’s first round of the Sony Open.

The same cannot be said for workers who were assigned to clean up the course and were trying to shut down Waialae CC for the evening. Coming in right behind the final threesome playing the back nine, the workers scooped up the tee markers at No. 15 and drove off.

The only thing is, Brian Harman had driven it wide of the fairway and presumably into a palm tree because no one could find the ball. The only recourse was to go back to the tee, but when he did, he couldn’t play until the tee markers were returned.

“We were just standing there, waiting,” said Harman, who was playing in his first tournament as a PGA Tour member. “I didn’t know if you could just peg it up from where we had just pegged it up from. But I decided to play it safe and wait for the tee markers to come back.”

It took about 10 minutes, so precious daylight was wasted.

“It’s one of those things,” Harman said.

The adventure wasn’t quite over, because after hitting his second ball into the fairway, Harman was told his first ball had been found. But that good news was tempered by the fact that Harman had already declared it lost and thus could not play it. He ended up with a double bogey and an eventual round of 2-over 72.

• • •

EASY PICKINS: At 501 yards, the par-5 ninth at Waialae CC was the 903rd toughest hole on the 2011 PGA Tour schedule.

That’s the same as saying it was the 16th easiest, because it played to a field average of just 4.421. Soft, indeed.

The only thing, with a steady wind at their backs, players had it even easier in Friday’s second round, especially in the morning when there was hardly any breeze.

It wasn’t until the 11th pairing and 33rd player that someone didn’t make a birdie. That someone was Koumei Oda, who made par, but before him, 32 players had made either eagle (eight, Jimmy Walker, David Hearn, Duffy Waldorf, Harrison Frazar, Jonathan Byrd, Charles Howell, Michael Thomson, Steve Wheatcroft) or birdie.

Even when Troy Kelly and Scott Brown in the final group of the morning wave hit hit out-of-bounds left and made bogeys, the hole was statistically a push-over. For the morning wave, the 33 players had a 4.0011 with 16 eagles. That was startling, because for all four rounds of 2010 there were only 17 eagles at the ninth.

The pushover continued in the afternoon, so for the day, the hole averaged an eye-popping 3.957. (By comparison, the par-4 first hole averaged 4.313, a 480-yarder that went into the wind.) There were 26 eagles and only three bogeys, the third made by Steve Marino, who also went out-of-bounds left.

• • •

THIS 'N THAT: It was a tough go for the last two champions here. Mark Wilson, last year’s winner, came back with a 68, but was done in by an opening 73 as he missed the cut at 1 over. Ryan Palmer, the 2011 winner, shot 74 and at 3 over also went home early . . . . . Two Champions Tour members, Corey Pavin (67-137) and Tom Pernice Jr. (70-139) made the cut. . . . Monday qualifier Doug Labelle shot 67 and at 7 under is tied for fourth, three back. . . . First-round leader Graham DeLaet backed up a 63 with a 72 and fell into a tie for 17th, now five back.

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