The Loves dominated the Father-Son Challenge (but hope they don’t have to defend next year)

December 16, 2018

ORLANDO, Fla. – This PNC Father-Son event is an Alastair Johnston enterprise. Johnston is an old IMG hand, going back to its Arnold Palmer heyday, and he sets the rules for this 36-hole event.

As a starting point, per Johnston, the headliner must have won a major or a Players Championship, and the partner cannot have a Tour card. On that basis, if all goes well, this year’s winners, Davis Love III and his son, Dru, will not be able to defend. Dru, like his father and grandfather before him, is a professional golfer. But he doesn’t have a Tour card.

What they did on Sunday at the Ritz-Carlton course here was phenomenal. Yes, it’s a flat, short resort course and the pins were in flat spots. Yes, it’s scramble format from the teeing ground to the bottom of the hole, which means bogeys are about as rare as a Fred Couples phone call. Yes, you place your ball, so you never have a lie that’s not perfect. Yes, the par-5s are short. Still! The Loves played 18 holes in 56 shots. That’s 16 under par! They won by three over three other teams.

Father-and-son both were wearing white pants and light blue shirts you could call Carolina Blue, but you wouldn’t exactly call it a team uniform. Davis is a Polo guy, has been for years, and everything fits just so and is perfectly pressed. Dru’s a big boy in every way, kind of half-stuffed into his Sunday outfit, which he might have found under his bed. If this kid, a former Alabama golfer, has ever had a worry in his life, you could not tell.

Davis Love III and Dru Love not only won on Sunday, they set a course record for the PNC Father-Son Challenge. (Photos: Gabe Roux)
Davis Love III and Dru Love not only won on Sunday, they set a course record for the PNC Father-Son Challenge. (Photo: Gabe Roux)
Gabe Roux

When it was over, they stood on a riser recounting the highlights for reporters. It was all highlights, except for the two pars made. Jack Nicklaus came into the scrum, leaned in and said to Dru, “Get your PGA Tour card and get out of here.”

At the start of the day, the Loves were chasing Nicklaus and his grandson, GT, Big and Little John Daly, and some other teams. “There was no issue with leaderboard watching, because there are no leaderboards,” the senior Love said.

After a first-round 59, a course-record (in this event) 59, Daly and Daly looked like they would be very hard to beat, in large part because 15-year-old Little John Daly can flat out play. Beautiful swing, loads of desire and, in the Dru Love tradition, looks like nothing worries him. Jack and GT were two shots back.

As a record, that round of 59 was short-lived, as Love and Love improved on it by three! This is not a fair comparison, but just to get you thinking about what the Loves did: can you imagine the Masters course record going from 63 to 60 in one day?

Like a sportswriter on deadline, Johnston, the vice chairman of IMG, was openly rooting for the best story to win. The Loves are great, everybody likes the Loves, but how cool would it be to see Jack Nicklaus actually win some sort of golf tournament again?

When Team Nicklaus made a late bogey on Sunday, Johnston, still carrying a Scots burr from his boyhood, said “Oh, Jack.” You make a bogey in this thing and other teams fly by.

As hunters and fishermen and golfers, Davis and Dru have logged a lot of road miles together. Father caddied for son at the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills. Dru missed the cut by a shot. Davis looked like a gutted bluefish on a fishing dock. Davis, in his prime and still today, is a very aggressive player, but any U.S. Open course, even a big wide one, requires different times and places to put the throttle down.

Dru was asked how his father is different, as playing partner here and caddie then.

“Here, you have to be aggressive on every shot, because you have two chances. He played first on every shot, I tried to learn something from what he did, then I played my shot,” Dru said. “Then when we got to the greens, we flipped it.” You always want your better putter to go second in these things.

Dru played in the RSM Classic in Sea Island last month on a sponsor’s exemption, and his father played in it as the tournament host and as a Hall of Famer with lifetime exemption status. After a third-round 64, Dru was thinking of a top-10 finish, which would have qualified him automatically for next month’s Sony Open in Honolulu. He sometimes gets ahead of himself, as young players do. He shot a final-round 70 and finished T-54. He said on Sunday he still might go to Hawaii and try to Monday qualify. His father is already playing.

Dru had to cut short the interview. “I wanna see these parachutes come in!” he said.

As part of the closing ceremony to this decidedly low-key and fun event, three military parachuters dropped out of the sky and onto the 18th hole. A PA announcer said, “God bless and blue skies and Merry Christmas.” Dru stood near his mother and father and sister and niece, his head cocked and mouth slightly ajar at the wonder of airborne men. For a lot of years now, a lot of people have looked at his father’s towering tee shots in just the same way. Davis Love, who turns 55 in April, could still win a Tour event, if everything came together. He knows that. If his son was in the field that week as a card-carrying Tour member, that would be even better.

Michael Bamberger may be reached at [email protected]