Captain Love works to keep team insulated
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, GA. – Even at Sea Island, a throwback setting from the late 1920s where time tends to stand still, Davis Love III is a busy guy, jetting through life these days at a frenetic pace.
Love is wrapping up his fourth term on the PGA Tour Policy Board and helping to prepare for the third McGladrey Classic (Oct. 18-21) at Sea Island’s Seaside Course, an event that he helped to organize and now hosts. (Love has even been staged the pro-am draw at his Sea Island home.)
Oh, and then there’s this little three-day event coming up at Medinah in Chicago at the end of the month …
“I’ve been slightly busy,” the U.S. Ryder captain said with a tired grin, having just returned from a weekend scouting trip to Medinah, where he and his son, Dru, a freshman at Alabama, were joined by Steve Stricker. “We’ve been having a lot of fun, but it’s been busy.
“Every time Scott (Reid, tournament director) gives me a countdown to when the McGladrey Classic starts, I just subtract a few days and realize that the Ryder Cup is getting ready to happen.”
He spent his summer trying to tell people that his duties as Ryder Cup captain had little effect on his play, but once he put his clubs away midway through Barclays, the first stage of the FedEx Cup playoffs, the realist inside knew better. He was worn out, and not sleeping well. He had four wild-card selections to make, and for three days of “friendly” matches, there was no shortage of details to address, his constant reminder being the weeklong itinerary for him that scrolls endlessly down the screen of his iPad.
Love’s quest – any captain’s quest – is to keep players as insulated as possible from everything but the golf, so that they can just show up and perform their best. But the enormity of the Ryder Cup is not lost upon him. For one, he has competed in six of the biennial competitions, so he knows what it’s like as a competitor to stand on the first hole Friday morning barely able to get a little ball to balance on a tiny tee. He takes the helm of a U.S. team that has won only once in its last five meetings against Europe (in 2008, at Valhalla). The one-day contrast of seeing Sea Island getting ready for a Southern-homestyle PGA Tour Fall Series event and Medinah preparing for a Ryder Cup was downright startling. Love joked that he saw as many workers building hospitality structures in Chicago on Sunday as he will see in his pro-am gallery at Sea Island.
“There’s a reason why there are four acres of tents here,” he said Monday at Sea Island, “and 48 acres of tents up there.”
He and assistant Freddie Couples, who has captained the past two winning U.S. Presidents Cup teams, have been working diligently on the pairings for weeks. Early in his career, Love recalls flying to his first Ryder Cup, begging veteran Tom Kite to lobby captain Tom Watson to let the two team with each other at the Belfry in England. (Watson obliged, and Kite and Love defeated Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal in opening foursomes.) Sure, he could face adjustments once the matches begin at Medinah, but when the U.S. players break from a team dinner this Saturday night in Atlanta, Love wants to remove the mystery from the air, and let players know what he’s thinking in regard to who will play with whom.
There are a few obvious pairings: Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker, Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson, Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley. He wants players to be comfortable and to try to have fun, even in such a pressure-filled arena. The captain says any player who tells him he can play with anybody isn’t really doing him any favors. He already has burned through one legal pad with his thoughts. Bradley, who like Love is a student of sports psychologist Bob Rotella, kidded him recently by saying, “You know, you can overthink this.”
Once the Ryder Cup is behind him, Love can return to two of his passions: Building up the McGladrey Classic, now in its third year, and then getting his own game rejuvenated. He’s considering jumping back into competition the week after Medinah, in Las Vegas.
As for the McGladrey, in short time it has become a nice autumn Tour event, building in stature through its tranquil setting and a local roster of Tour standouts with Sea Island ties that includes Ryder Cuppers Matt Kuchar, Zach Johnson and Brandt Snedeker. Love notes that his field last fall was stronger than some of the regular-season FedEx Tour stops. Mostly, the players who come enjoy the yesteryear atmosphere of a gathering that drips with Southern hospitality. Is there another event on Tour that boasts a grits bar?
“Smaller gallery, smaller atmosphere, smaller town. The players enjoy that,” Love said. “This tournament recruits itself.”
Love and his younger brother, Mark, who serves as executive tournament director, tried to model the McGladrey after the old Southern Open that was played in Columbus, Ga.
“Last year, McGladrey was by far the strongest field in the fall, and I think it’s a huge credit to Sea Island as a whole and to so many great guys living in the area, and the job that Scott Reid has done,” said Ben Crane, who shot a closing 63 and then defeated good friend Webb Simpson in a playoff to win last October.
In 2013, when the PGA Tour season begins in the fall, the McGladrey will move inside the FedEx Cup’s regular season and players will be given full FedEx points. The tournament likely will have a new challenge: Boosting its purse from the current level of $4 million.
“I’m excited to see what that looks like,” Crane said. “Certainly it will be a different feel.”
And likely a little more peaceful, stress-free time for tournament host Davis Love III, who will have a little less to do on his calendar.