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Ryder Cup Captain Davis Love III Will Have All Eyes on Him in 2016

Davis Love III Backs Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson for Ryder Cup Leaders
U.S. Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III has come out and said he would welcome both Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson as leaders on a Ryder Cup team. The comments came after analyst Brandel Chamblee torched the idea that Woods and Mickelson would do a good job, calling them 'undeserving.'

Sooner or later but not soon enough, G-men in trench coats are going to arrest the Internet -- the whole damn worldwide thing -- and charge it with violating the Constitution's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. Tiger Woods is routinely slain in the Twitterverse and in the comments sections of even your better sporting websites. So are Ian Poulter, Bubba Watson and Vijay Singh. To a degree, O.K., you can see it. Tiger's greatness, coupled with the spitting and the cursing and the old chasing, made him a bright-red target a long time ago. It would be hard to argue that Poulter is not annoying. Bubba is moody (but aren't all the artists?), and Singh is often dour and silent. So, yeah.

But how did Davis Love III get within chumming distance of that foursome? How is it possible that DL3, on a too-regular basis, is heaped with ridicule by anonymous twits who make the great and the good sound like people you should give the stink eye to if you saw them in your neighborhood Waffle House? Listen, people: You've got the wrong guy!

Over the past 25 years or so, I've seen DL3 in various Waffle Houses and gas stations and ballyards—to say nothing of press tents and driving ranges and the offices where we worked on a book together—and he's about as decent a person as you could ever hope to meet. Yet when he was announced last year as a Ryder Cup captain for the second time, some anonymous moron actually took the time to type this: "A$$clown Dandy Love as captain means I'll be cheering for the (Winning) Team Europe and Darren Clarke!”

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This piece of illiterate claptrap is truly not worthy of these pages, and I wouldn't even think to include it here except that I know that some of you nice people don't traffic in such muck and would like to see an example. Come April, by the way, the Golf Writers Association of America is giving Love an award in appreciation of his years of candor, availability, good humor and general affability. (Davis once looked at my duds, shoes to hat, and said, "No logos—that's hard to do.") His fellow players have elected him to the PGA Tour policy board a record five times, and three U.S. captains have chosen Love to be an assistant on their Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup teams.

So there's a disconnect here, between the Davis Love some of us actually know and the Davis Love that moved "teedoff" to post, "DL3 AGAIN???? You've got to be s-------me? This will be ANOTHER RC disaster for the US." At one point I felt compelled to tell Love what I know many think: Davis, you've got an image problem.

And Love, to his everlasting credit, responded thusly: I know it. I accept it. I have no plans to do anything about it.

"People can think what they want to think and say what they want to say. It's not my job to fight with them," Love told me in January, when playing at Kapalua. "I hear it: 'He's an underachiever.' At times I find myself agreeing with it. Not when I can't move my neck. But at times. What I've tried to do is balance golf, my family, my friends, my faith, my hobbies. I don't look back at my career very much, but I've had a pretty good career. Still, there are a lot of times when I feel like I should have won more, like I did underachieve."

It's also possible that he overachieved. Love has never been a world-beater with the short irons. (Under pressure, it seems, they go long and left.) He has never had a flair for putting. Yet he's been able to play the Tour nonstop since 1986. And in that time he's had one wife, one swing and zero rules debacles, and he has quietly given millions to, and raised millions for, various churches, hospitals, schools and golf organizations. He's got the one major (the 1997 PGA Championship), two almost majors (the 1992 and 2003 Players) and 18 other Tour wins. There aren't many players in the game today who are going to retire with numbers like that.

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Someday Love is bound to get a locker in the World Golf Hall of Fame, and that's without any consideration given to his spot on six Ryder Cup teams and six Presidents Cup teams, or that his Ryder Cup record as captain, by sundown on Sunday, Oct. 2, will improve to 1--1. Because, you know, effort and earnestness always get rewarded, right?

Well, no. Of course not. Because no U.S. captain ever tried harder to bring home a win than Captain Love did when the Ryder Cup was last played Stateside, at Medinah in 2012. You know how that went, despite the four-point U.S. lead on Saturday night. Thing is, on Sunday at a Ryder Cup, a captain can't play the shots for the fellas, and most captains wouldn't want to.

RELATED: Tiger Woods Named Ryder Cup Vice Captain

Davis, though, would welcome the challenge, on the full shots especially. This year you'll see him hit beautiful shots with his trademark long, flowing and rhythmic swing, and now he has some new tricks in his repertoire, including towering, soft-landing shots off the jet-black face of the PXG hybrid in his bag. He is no longer with Bridgestone, and in his bag this year you'll see a hodgepodge of manufacturers—Titleist, TaylorMade, PXG, Scotty Cameron. The fact is that Davis, the last person to win a major using a wooden driver, could shoot 68 with clubs from your grandma's attic. Last August at Greensboro, at the age of 51, he shot rounds of 64, 66, 69 and 64. Nobody shot lower than his gaudy 263 that week. Only Sam Snead and Art Wall have won on Tour at an older age.

Love began this year by playing three straight events in the Aloha State: The Hyundai Tournament of Champions, followed by the Sony Open in Honolulu, and then last week at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, a Champions tour event on the Big Island. At the senior event he opened with a 66 while paired with an unusually pleasant Singh, and followed with rounds of 67 and 68 to finish third. Love is as healthy now as he's been in 15 years. He's just 15 years older.

He will play a full Tour schedule in 2016, including the Masters for only the second time since 2007, the PGA and (he hopes) the two other majors. The senior majors—the U.S. Senior Open, the Senior British Open and the PGA Senior Championship, to name three real ones—he's less sure about. He wants to hang with the kids for as long as he can, and not just in his touring life.

In 2014, Love and his wife, Robin, became grandparents when their daughter, Lexie Love Whatley, had a daughter. Eloise is a significant and joyful distraction for Davis, adding to an already impressive list of them: motorcycles, NASCAR, snowboarding, fishing, hunting by bow and arrow and muzzle-loader and some other weaponry you might see in The Revenant. The driving range was never his highest priority, and now it is even less of one. But as his son, Dru, says, "After about 40 years he knows what to work on."

Dru, 22, has IV as a suffix—his nickname comes off quadruple—and he's a good golfer himself. He has his father's length and then some, his father's height and then some, his father's toes-out duck walk and his father's full-throttle practice swing. Dru, who plays at Alabama, won the Georgia Amateur Championship last year and got into the field in the RSM Classic on Sea Island, Ga., in November in a qualifier. He played the first two rounds of his first Tour event on his home course with his snowboarding partner and best friend, Davis Love III, two days of golf that DL3 calls "one of the top five golf experiences of my life."

I asked Dru if he could crystallize his father's golf lessons for me. "He never preached me anything about the swing," Dru said. (Preach and scripture and church are common words in the Love home. Along with, Go outside!) "Davis leaves my golf to Jack Lumpkin and [Davis's brother] Mark. What he'd say to me is, 'This is how you act; this is how you handle yourself.'" You'll hear the word manners, too.

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Ryder Cup captains Darren Clarke (left) and Davis Love III (right) chat with Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton during the 2016 Ryder Cup "Welcome To Minnesota" Breakfast at the Windows on Minnesota building on Sept. 28, 2015, in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

He's a big, gangly, red-haired kid with a boyish, goofy grin, but he's been around grown-ups at Tour events all his life, and talking to him is like talking to someone who is long out of college. He told me about a 14-hour drive he and his father made a couple of winters ago in a snowstorm, traveling from Sun Valley, Idaho, to backcountry British Columbia for a few days of snowboarding in the Canadian wilds. On a winding, two-lane road on a pitch-black night with Dru behind the wheel of the truck, the two saw a large, bearded animal crossing the road and simultaneously yelled out, "Elk!" The tires screeched, as did the travelers, and the truck stopped inches from the meandering local, who stared at the intruders through wide eyes and then sauntered off, a study in nonchalance. You can't buy a parent-child experience like that.

Father and son have logged a lot of miles together. I asked Dru if their musical tastes while driving were compatible. "Totally," Dru said. "We both like R.E.M., Nirvana, Pearl Jam—and the XM station Outlaw Country."

In 1985, when Davis was on the North Carolina golf team, the R.E.M. neocountry song Rockville was popular, and Davis seized on one of its lyrics: "Don't go back to Rockville and waste another year." He took that as a sign not to return to Chapel Hill for his senior year and instead to take his talent to the PGA Tour. He bought an engagement ring with his first professional check. Along with Jim (Bones) Mackay and Fred Couples and several others, Love was a charter member of the Tour's R.E.M. fan club. Love became friends with the band's manager, Bertis Downs, along with two of its golf-loving players, bassist Mike Mills and drummer Bill Berry. All four are Georgians, and Berry, like Love, is a gentleman farmer.

And that is part of the problem: gentleman farmer. Davis is a gentleman farmer in the sense that he does not make a living from his farm. But if a wild hog is a repeat offender in his garden, out comes the double-barrel. If a floorboard in the farmhouse is warped, Davis is on his hands and knees, competently. The Roman numeral and the Polo uniform and the tutored swing, to say nothing of some poor play in crunch time that he'd like to have back, have stamped Love as something he is not, as effete, as a dilettante, as a child of privilege. As soft. So unfair and so wrong. Professional golf is blue-collar work in country-club settings. Davis comes from working people—he is the son of a teaching pro and the grandson of a farmer—and he is an enlightened redneck with a stubborn streak. He has a list of priorities he made all on his own. Despite appearances, he is, in the most significant ways, an independent.

Almost 20 years ago Tiger Woods won his first Tour event in Las Vegas, in a playoff over Love. The next day I was with Davis in a clubhouse near his home on Sea Island. Davis walked into a locker room, and an old coot in a plush chair said to him, "How could you let that little ..."

I feared what word might come next. Davis, I suspect, did too. He shot the man a look, and no noun was proffered.

"... beat you in that playoff?"

"He played good and I did not," Davis said, and he kept on going.

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