By Dave Seanor
Davis Love III’s personal life may be “topsy-turvy,” but his game was simply tops heading into the U.S. Open. And if there’s a sentimental favorite at Olympia Fields, it’s got to be Love.
In his first start since the May 16 death of Jeff Knight – Love’s brother-in-law who also worked as his “operations manager” – the PGA Tour’s leading money winner finished tied for seventh in the
rain-delayed FBR Capital Open.
Knight’s death, an apparent suicide, occurred four days after he had admitted to Love the theft of hundreds of thousands of dollars from Love’s bank accounts (Golfweek, June 6). Unbeknownst to Love, Knight had been under investigation by the FBI since December 2002.
“Obviously, it is part of a healing process to get back out here,” Love said June 4, the day before play began at the FBR. “But I am here to play to win. I have three wins and there are some guys out there playing really good golf that are going to run me down really quick if I don’t start playing.”
Love didn’t win, but he did pad his money lead to $222,937 over Mike Weir, who skipped the FBR. Love posted rounds of 70-71-68-67–276, 8 under par and six shots behind winner Rory Sabbatini.
Love’s performance didn’t surprise Mike Hulbert, one of Love’s best friends on Tour.
“It’s not like you have practice for this (dealing with tragedy), but throughout his career nothing has rattled Davis,” Hulbert said. “That’s why he plays so well. Nothing rattles him, especially on the golf course.”
Love began his U.S. Open preparation in earnest on May 30, two weeks after Knight’s death.
“I’ve been working with some stuff in my swing with Jack Lumpkin,” Love said. “It’s really in preparation for the U.S. Open, but also to knock the rust off. I’d planned a two-week break (not playing the Byron Nelson or Colonial), but then it turned into three (when he withdrew from the Memorial). I really didn’t plan on not playing golf those two weeks, so in light of the situation, for a couple of weeks there I never touched a club.”
Instead, Love’s focus was on his family – both immediate and extended. Knight’s wife, Karen, is the sister of Love’s wife, Robin; Knight’s children, Lindsey, 7, and Bankston, 4, have always been considered part of the Love household.
Those who knew Knight are mystified as to what motivated him to steal from Love. Knight, 37, was a well-known and well-liked resident of Sea Island, Ga. The St. Simons Presbyterian Church was filled to more than capacity May 21 for Knight’s memorial service.
“My brother-in-law was a great guy and very important to our family – my kids, his kids, our whole family,” Love said. “His job was to make our lives easier.
“He was a good friend and a good manager. He did a lot of good things. Mentally, he just lost his way.”
The Love saga is an example of why sports agents are cautious when clients want to involve family and/or friends in their business affairs.
“It’s always an issue we deal with, in terms of how many relatives should be involved,” said Alastair Johnston, head of IMG’s golf division. “We do counsel them on the downside and the upside of doing it.”
Johnston said the sheer size of IMG means that enough people handle clients to ensure that a system of checks and balances is in place.
“There’s no guarantee that there isn’t a renegade in the ranks, but it certainly minimizes it,” he said.
Sometimes clients resist the advice of management companies, said Johnston, noting the case of Arnold Palmer, whose friend Jimmy O’Neal was accused of skimming money from Palmer’s auto dealerships during the late 1980s and early ’90s. O’Neal was acquitted of the more serious criminal charges against him, but he was convicted of tax evasion in 1995. The conviction involved sales tax collections at one of Palmer’s auto dealerships.
Johnston said IMG had suspicions something was amiss, but the company’s attempts at intervention strained its relationship with Palmer. “He knew it, but he didn’t want to hear about it,” Johnston said.
Rocky Hambric, president of Hambric Sports Management, said “it’s rare for there not to be at least one family member who wants to be involved.” Typically, that doesn’t cause problems, Hambric said, unless “family members want to get involved beyond their level of expertise.”
David Parker, founder of Links Management, said he always recommends that clients hire an “unbiased party” to handle finances. “I rarely see a player have a family member manage their money,” said Parker. “Family members tend to be involved on the periphery. Things like scheduling, travel – anything (clients) do outside of golf.”
Knight was responsible for Love’s travel logistics and household operations, including bill-paying. FBI investigators believe Knight siphoned money from a new home construction account, and used it build a fishing retreat (where Knight shot himself), make home renovations and buy supplies for what he believed to be an impending Y2K disaster. A pattern of suspicious deposits into Knight’s personal accounts prompted his bank to alert the FBI, which is trying to determine exactly how much money – believed to be as much as $1 million – Knight stole from Love.
Love has said he has no intention of exercising his legal right to seek restitution from Knight’s estate. Rather, his intent is to support Knight’s family.
“There are a lot of people saying it’s too bad (this happened) in the midst of your great year,” Love said. “It has nothing to do with golf. We have lost a very important person in our family.
“My son asked the best question after about 10 days: ‘When is it going to go back to normal?’ Well, it’s not. It’s going to be a new normal. We just have to go day by day, keep praying, being strong, getting through it.”
For Love, the next step in that process comes at Olympia Fields.
– Jeff Rude and Golf Press Association contributed