Man in motion: Love finds his balance off the course
Tuesday, September 25, 2012
The gentlemanly Davis Love III is on the move again, always, feet and hands never stopping. The next thrill beckons, and danger lurks. There he goes, snowboarding or skiing down a mountain
or snowmobiling up. He travels cross-country by motorcycle, not by boring car. It’s Shark Week, and he still surfs. Big waves also attract his paddleboard. Throw in hunting, fishing and whatever else spikes adrenaline in open air, and he’s more outdoorsman than star golfer.
“That’s ultimate to me,” said the 48-year-old man whose Sea Island, Ga., residence is as much amusement park as home. “You’re doing something challenging, physical and there’s nobody watching.”
Love may wear preppy clothes and walk down a fairway as if thumb tacks rest under his spindly legs, and he may lead the PGA Tour in heartfelt philanthropy and manners, but don’t be fooled by the unathletic, choir-boy appearance. He embraces the edge of the cliff. Ask the 20-time Tour winner about his dream job and he says, “Obviously I’d like to be a back-country snowboard guy and live
in the mountains.”
Fellow touring pro Mike Hulbert says his longtime pal is the “next level down from daredevil.” Agent Mac Barnhardt says the thoroughbred of his stable feels most alive when helicoptering to a mountaintop for a snowboard trip down. Little wonder Tim Finchem, the PGA Tour’s commissioner, surmises, “I think he pushes it a little bit.”
This is your U.S. captain for the 39th Ryder Cup matches this month at Medinah, Ill. The Ryder Cup is the closest thing golf has to bungee jumping, so you might say the job fits someone who fuels off of exciting challenges and lives for accelerated heartbeat. Or someone familiar with spills, for scaling the Europeans has been no easy task.
For certain, Love will be in perpetual motion again – just as he is during his myriad career-risking activities out in the elements. They get his mind off golf, keep him competitively sharp and wear him out by the time he walks in the door.
Wife Robin: “Why do you push yourself like that? You come home tired all the time.”
DL3: “It’s fun.”
Fatigue might be the only thing that slows down the human pinball who gets bored easily. Others have tried and failed. Multitasking always wins.
“Can you just do one thing?” Robin Love asks him. “Just sit and watch TV. You’re always doing two or three things.”
Through much experience, Finchem knows the answer. It’s no. The respected Love has served on the Tour Policy Board for an unprecedented four three-year terms, and he and Finchem have gone on fishing and skiing trips together and teamed at the AT&T National Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
Says Finchem: “He’s always tinkering with a machine or device in his hands. He has to have something to play with. He never stops.”
Apparently there are reasons behind the longstanding behavior. Love traces it to the death of his father, a prominent PGA teaching professional, in a 1988 airplane crash. The accident also claimed two other Sea Island pros, including Jimmy Hodges, the younger Love’s best friend at the time.
“I lost my dad and had a lot of responsibilities and didn’t want to think about it,” Love said. “I got in a habit of doing something for somebody else or doing something fun or working on my golf game and never slowing down – keep my mind occupied.
“I don’t want to sit down and waste time. I don’t think I’m hiding from anything. I like getting things done and being active.”
Love was 24 and in his third Tour season at the time of the crash. The losses stung to the point Love says he “very easily could have quit.”
“It was hard to me to go back to the golf course (at home),” he said. “It’s not painful anymore; it’s sad. I have a hard time watching my brother (Mark) give my son (Dru) a lesson because it’s sad. It’s not my dad.”
Love has carried out his parents’ polite ways in the Sea Island community. He and some others figure he would have won more tournaments had he not been so focused on his three F’s: family, friends and fun. He has created jobs at home through various businesses and constantly helped those in need financially, at times lending his airplane.
Bob Rotella, Love’s longtime sports psychologist, says no one “takes care of more people. He’s very ‘other’ oriented.”
The generosity has run so deep that Love says, “People now expect me to cover every budget shortfall or ministry around.” The giving extends to entertaining at his so-called Camp Love digs and nearby 3,000-acre farm. Love has hosted fundraisers, pro-am draw parties and four-day College Golf Fellowship retreats for some 50 students.
There’s something for everyone down the winding road behind the gate. The massive garage features a gym, motorcycles, bicycles, Pop-A-Shot basketball, pingpong table, all-terrain vehicles, paddleboards and a nicked-up door that has served as hockey goal and archery target.
Love no longer has the luxury motorhome he used on Tour for about a decade, but you can find horses, tractors, boats, scooters and hunting guns at his playground.
Little wonder that fellow pro Billy Andrade’s kids would beg to return to DL3’s for another vacation. Or that young Cam Andrade would say, “The Loves are long-road-behind-a-gate kind of people.” Or that Fred Couples would say, “I like to go to Davis’ house, but there’s way too much going on.”
Love took stock of all the equipment and addressed the excess candidly: “In the Bible, it says you don’t get hung up on things. I’ve blown that. I’ve bought too many things. But it’s not like I’m trying to accumulate things and wealth for me. I do too much for entertaining my family. My daughter has a pool party, and 20 kids come over. I love people. When our kids were teenagers, we wanted all the kids to come to our house. It’s a safe place to be, and it’s going to be fun. That’s probably why we’ve had too many toys.”
At the moment, he’s hooked on boards. Asked by Robin why he’s urging to vacation in Fiji, he replied, “They have big waves.” He’s not all that proficient at surfing and paddleboarding but vows he will be. With snowboarding, the skill level, not to mention the tingling, is higher. Love lets his hair down then, the stoical golfer transforming into a jokester with an offseason beard. Boarding from the top of a mountain, he says, feels like facing a 10-foot putt to win a tournament.
“That’s when I get excited,” he said. “I think if I played golf more like I snowboard, a little more of taking a chance, more on the edge, I might be better.”
The long-hitting Love’s record is Hall of Fame worthy, what with that 1997 PGA Championship and two Players titles and berths on every Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup team from 1993 to 2005 and top-21 finishes in Tour earnings in all but one season from 1990 to 2006.
But Love and some close to him figure he would have won more had he possessed more confidence and killer instinct, had he not been so nice and had he not had so many hobbies.
“Could I have been mentally tougher?” he said. “Yeah, for sure. But I don’t think 25 wins would’ve made me any happier than 20.”
Rotella takes a dissenting view, calling Love an “overachiever,” given how far he has risen since junior golf, given the diversions and an aversion to beating balls until hands bleed.
“He’s one of the most efficient practicers because of other interests,” Rotella said. “He hasn’t changed his pre-shot routine in 20 years. He’s definitely not addicted, but he’s very disciplined.”
For years, mentor Tom Kite would tell Love to smile and wave more on the course. Truth is, Love remains uncomfortable doing that and interacting with large crowds.
He’s a small-group guy not into attention. He’s admittedly not good at opening up, even with
close friends. He is someone who fantasizes about playing in anonymity. Barnhardt, Love’s agent, goes so far as to say nobody really knows the reluctant celebrity.
“Kite was right,” Love said, “but I kept telling him I’m working and I’m nervous and I’m trying not to start crying rather than waving.”
By all accounts, the man whom Barnhardt calls a “big kid” is more comfortable around children than adults. Love likes helping them as older people did during his youth. That even means babysitting. At the recent Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, N.C., he volunteered to watch Chris Kirk’s baby one night so Kirk and his wife could go out to dinner.
DL3, babysitter? He might be the perfect Ryder Cup captain.
“They didn’t believe me that I’d keep their baby for them,” Love said, “but I’ve done it a bunch. I like being around kids. They’re fun, and they’re honest.”
Love’s sense of doing the right thing extends to influencing the trend in which players take their caps off while shaking hands on the 18th green. He’s emphatic that the polite cap-off gesture is vital to a so-called gentleman’s game.
“That’s why you want to grab someone like
Anthony Kim and say you can be cool and cocky, but you can still take your cap off and shake hands if you had a bad day,” Love said. “That’s important.”
To be sure, Love is passionate about the Ryder Cup. But he’s looking beyond as well. He says he can’t wait for the season to end so he can “go back to goofing off again” with his toys. And he foresees a post-Tour life that has him driving a bulldozer while building golf courses.
“That would put everything together for me,” Love said. “It’d be outdoors, out of the limelight, a little dangerous, with heavy equipment, and I’d be giving something back and creating something.”