KAPALUA, Hawaii (AP) — It only takes a few good weeks to change fortunes on the PGA Tour.
Cameron Beckman and Marc Turnesa were on their way back to Q-school until winning late last year, and now they are watching rainbows pour into the Pacific Ocean as they start a new season with the other PGA Tour winners at Kapalua.
Such swift turnarounds even apply to someone like Davis Love III.
Despite earning over $35 million in 23 years on the PGA Tour, he was on the cusp of having to use a one-time exemption from the career money list just to keep his card. Three weeks later, he won the final PGA Tour event of the season and became a lifetime member with his 20th victory.
“It’s nice to be 180 or 170 on the money list, and all of a sudden you’ve got a lifetime exemption,” the 44-year-old Love said. “That was pretty good.”
Only in the two months leading to his trip to Maui did he realize how good.
First came the phone calls to congratulate him, one from longtime friend and NBC Sports analyst Bob Murphy, another from Furman Bisher, the 90-year-old columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Then the tour sent him a scrapbook of messages from fans who had posted their congratulations on the Web site.
“It’s that thick,” Love said, holding his fingers 2 inches apart. “And it’s not one per page – it’s two or three. It’s incredible how many people acknowledge 20 wins. And that’s not counting my Web site or my office. It’s pretty amazing. I was just working hard to try to get another win, try to get in the Masters, not have to do 36-hole qualifying for the other majors.
“It was in the back of my mind, but not the front.”
Lifetime membership requires 20 victories and 15 years on the PGA Tour, and it’s an elite group, particularly in an era when the tour is attracting the best players from all corners of the globe. Among players under 50, Vijay Singh and Phil Mickelson are the only other players with such status (Tiger Woods still has to put in two more years).
It also changes how Love is perceived, for he has been discussed as an underachiever with so much talent. The measure will be how many votes he collects on the PGA Tour ballot for the Hall of Fame. Those 20 wins include a major and two victories in The Players Championship.
“I didn’t start off my career working toward 20 wins or the Hall of Fame,” Love said. “I just wanted to see how good I can get and try to win a lot.”
That much hasn’t changed.
After playing the front nine of his 2009 season debut in 4-under 32, Love knocked down a wedge into the wind that was going just left of the flag on No. 10 when it spun off a ridge and into the rough. He slapped his knee, and banged the divot with the back of his club.
He still has much to prove, and his goals are large and small.
The first step is to qualify for the Accenture Match Play Championship, held the last week in February for the top 64 in the world ranking. Love is at No. 77. Of greater importance is getting into the Masters, which will require either a PGA Tour victory or getting into the top 50 at the end of March.
Love hasn’t played in the Presidents Cup since 2005, and his good friend Fred Couples is the U.S. captain this year. And he would like to get back to the Tour Championship, an event he played 12 years in a row until he failed to qualify the last two years.
Just his luck, his annual trip to East Lake ended about the time the tour started handing out $35 million in FedEx Cup bonus money.
“Been kind of boring watching other guys play for it,” he said.
Love was on the PGA Tour policy board when it adopted the concept of a FedEx Cup and four playoff events at the end of the year. Part of that process was sorting through various models to determine which points list would create the most excitement. Each model showed how players would fare based on tournament results from the previous years.
“They ran these models, and I was always in the model. ‘Here is what happened if you had a year like ’06 or ’05.’ And I was always doing really good,” Love said.
But he failed to reach the third round (BMW Championship) in the inaugural FedEx Cup season of 2007, then stepped in a hole playing a casual round of golf and shredded ligaments in his left ankle. Trying to strengthen his ankle much of last year, he didn’t even qualify for the first round last year.
“I want to get in on that,” he said.
Love at least is starting on solid footing. The ankle is strong, the Kapalua soil is beneath his feet. He has a lifetime exemption on the PGA Tour, but he wants to be as motivated as he was when he first joined the PGA Tour as a 22-year-old who could hit it a mile.