For Captain Love, who oversaw Team USA’s heartbreaking loss at Medinah, the 2016 Ryder Cup is a chance for redemption. Here, in his own words, the 21-time Tour winner opens up about Tiger’s role as a vice captain, lessons learned in that 2012 loss, and why, at 52, he can still play with the young guns.
WHAT THE CUP MEANS TO ME
The Ryder Cup has defined my career as much as anything. It’s been a good career: one PGA Championship, two wins in the Players, 18 other Tour victories, the Presidents Cup as a player and an assistant captain. But the thing I get asked about the most is being involved in the Ryder Cup, as a player, an assistant captain and a captain.
I often think ahead to the 2016 Ryder Cup. What role will my assistant captains play in the team room? Can Jordan Spieth, as young as he is, be a team leader? Are we doing the things we need to do to make the American team successful, not just this year but for the next 10, 20 years? That’s the goal.
TIGER STEPS UP
Some people were surprised when Tiger was announced as one of my vice captains 11 months ahead of this year’s Ryder Cup. But those people don’t know Tiger. Not many do. I’ve been around him a lot, going back to his amateur days, when we were both taking lessons from Butch Harmon. But it’s been in the past four years, since the 2012 Ryder Cup, that we’ve really built a trusting friendship, in large part because of all the Ryder Cup work we’ve done together.
Tiger likes being part of the team. He wants to be a Ryder Cup captain himself one day, and I’m sure he will be a great one. But what’s clear is that he’s ready for another phase of his career. All the greats have had a transition period from world-beater to elder statesman. He knows that that day is coming.
For years Tiger has played everything so close to the vest, but in our Ryder Cup meetings—along with Phil Mickelson and my other vice captains Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk and Tom Lehman—Tiger has shared thoughts and observations in ways he has not before. He’s helped us become more focused on how to get our 2016 team prepared, to come together. He has so much drive and desire. Can you imagine him saying a few words to inspire the team on Saturday night? I’m blessed to have Tiger, Steve, Jim and Tom by my side as I prepare for the Ryder Cup.
A STRONGER VOICE
The biggest difference between my 2012 and 2016 teams? More than ever, the PGA of America is giving the players a voice in the Ryder Cup, and we’re truly working together— for this year and for every Ryder Cup to come.
Two words keep coming to mind: continuity and consistency. We’re trying to develop something the next captain can take and build on. In 2012, I had this massive binder from the PGA; it was like an owner’s manual. It could have been labeled, “How We Do the Ryder Cup.” I remember telling a friend, “I’m overwhelmed by this thing.” Now we’re making our own binder, with all sorts of input from guys like Tiger, Phil and Steve. And it will get handed down.
CONTROL WHAT YOU CAN
We’re less bound by tradition now. You have to be prepared for situations that you can’t possibly predict. Paul Azinger dealt with that a lot when he was captain, in 2008. He told me recently, “Control what you can control, let go of the rest.” I don’t know if I would have really understood that in 2012. I do now.
WE TRULY ARE TEAM USA
I’m not promising a win. I am promising that we’ll play as a team, and we’re going to give it everything we have. As individuals, we’re good at golf. We know a lot about the game and how to play it. As a group, we know even more. Teams share. We’re sharing. My phone is blowing up every day: Tiger, Phil, Jimmy Walker, Brooks Koepka. It gives me goose bumps just thinking about it.
DREAMS OF MY YOUTH
I’m not a person who looks back very much, but I do remember the summer of 1974. My father, a teaching pro and a good player, was in the PGA Championship. I went with him. I saw Sam Snead, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer. I was 10. I told my father that this is what I wanted to do, play the “pro circuit.” That was the phrase then. My first year on Tour was ’86, so this is my 31st year at it. I never would have guessed it could have lasted so long.
A “TRIP” TO REMEMBER
Some say I underachieved as a player. There are days I agree with that, and other days—especially when I can barely move my neck—that I don’t. People can say what they want. That’s a fan’s right. If you don’t like what’s being said, it’s the athlete’s responsibility to change things. There are times I could have worked harder. But I always tried to balance being a husband, son, father and friend alongside my career. Ultimately, a professional golfer has to answer only to himself.
I once went heli-skiing with my son, Dru, the week before Kapalua. Snowboarding by way of helicopter! It was epic snow conditions with great friends, and we had one of our best father-son times ever. If I had spent that time practicing, could I have improved my T29 finish at Kapalua by 10 spots? Maybe. Would it have been worth it? No.
My family and some friends call me “Trip,” a reference to the triple at the end of my name. Well, the whole thing has been a long and interesting trip, starting at that 1974 PGA. Would I change some things? Of course. I three-putted the last hole of the 1996 U.S. Open and finished a shot behind the winner, Steve Jones. There have been other near misses. There was the time I hit my ball with my putter during a practice stroke. Strange things happen in golf. But when I take it all together, it’s been a great, wonderful ride. It’s been more than I could ever have hoped for.
I started to grow in my Christian faith after Payne Stewart’s death in a tragic accident in a small private plane in 1999, just weeks after the Ryder Cup we won at Brook-line. My father had died in a small private plane crash in 1988. I never really knew Payne that well. He was outgoing and fun-loving. He was the life of the party. But it was only in the last part of his life that he found God. He won that ’99 U.S. Open over Phil, and three months later he was such a leader at the Ryder Cup. He was so dynamic, and seemed happy and content. And then he was gone.
I flew to his funeral with Tiger, in a small private plane. I’m in those planes all the time. At the funeral, Paul Azinger said, “We aren’t in the land of the living going to the land of the dying. We’re in the land of the dying going to the land of the living.” From then on I’ve tried to commit myself to just being a better husband, father, son, friend. A stronger Christian. It’s been gradual, and I know I’m not perfect, and neither is anybody else. What I’m trying to do is improve. I’m thankful that I came to seeGod’s grace and good news through Payne.
A TRUE IMPACT PLAYER
Through my father, and because I started playing high-level golf at a young age, I got to meet just about everybody. Harvey Penick. Sam Snead. Byron Nelson. I played for Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer on Presidents Cup teams. I was able to get to know Raymond Floyd, Hale Irwin, Tom Watson, Ben Crenshaw, Greg Norman, Seve Ball-esteros, Nick Faldo, Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson. But of all the legends and Hall of Famers I’ve spent time with, the one who had the biggest impact on me was Tom Kite.
Tom and I were opposites in many ways. I was long off the tee and crooked with my 9-iron. He was short off the tee and deadly with his 9-iron. He lived to beat balls on the range. I used it as a place to talk with Fred Couples about last night’s hockey game.
So why does Tom standout? Because he was a pro’s pro. He did everything the right way: his respect for the rule book, for his playing partners, for fans, for sponsors. He took me under his wing when I turned pro. He said to my father, “I’ll play practice rounds with Davis, but he’d better be ready to work.” I can’t say I worked as hard as he did—I don’t know if my body would have allowed me to. But I can say, in terms of being a professional, that I’ve tried to be like Tom Kite.
I CAN STILL PLAY WITH THE YOUNG GUYS
Give me a good week of putting and I can still win on Tour. Thinking it is one thing, and doing it is another. At the Wyndham Championship last year, I had a good putting week, and I won. I want to play the regular Tour for as long as I can. And that’s probably not going to be too much longer. My poor golf has never been worse. In the 1990s, I could play poorly and finish 20th. If I play poorly now, there’s no way I make the cut.
The big difference these days is that the stats tell me what to work on. My son, Dru, will say, “Do you know where you rank from 60 to 100 yards?” It’s awful, but now I can pin down exactly where the problem is and address it in ways I couldn’t when I started out.
YOUR MIND MATTERS
After 30 years, you have to keep things fresh. Sports psychologist Bob Rotella has been helping me for more than 25 years. Here are his two big ones: “Stay in the moment.” “It’s the process, not the result.” He likes to say, “Davis, I’ve read all the psychology books so you don’t have to.”
You need mental tricks in this game. Today, you can have a Thursday afternoon tee time and be seven back before you hit a shot—and now the wind’s coming up, and the greens are bumpy. You have to block that out and go and make the best score you can. They don’t hand out trophies on Thursday, but it’s harder than ever to get in a positive mindset and keep it going for four days. Your mind has to be your friend, not your enemy.
People watch Jordan Spieth in practice rounds and might say, “He’s not hitting it too good.” My response is always: “Let’s talk Sunday night. How strong is his mind? How intense is his desire to get the ball in the hole?” We’ve seen Phil on 18 at Augusta with a putt to win, with every eye on him. He wants to be there. He wants that putt. You can say you want it, but truly wanting it is another thing. I wish I could say I wanted it as much as Phil still does, but you can’t be someone you’re not. What you can do is try to improve. Golf isn’t life, but there’s a lot of overlap.
MY PARENTS ARE ALWAYS WITH ME
My mother, Penta Love, had a stroke last fall. She lives near me in Sea Island, Georgia, and was doing rehab at a hospital in Jacksonville. So I would drive the 75 minutes to see her. Those drives and visits gave me time just to think, which I usually don’t have a chance to do. My dad taught me the swing. I have his name— he’s always there in my golf. But my mom had that feisty, competitive spirit. She would have been a great Ryder Cupper. My competitive spirit is from her. She’s ornery. It’s what makes my mom who she is. In public, I try to hide that side of myself. But I know it’s there.
She’s in her 80s. It’s been hard to watch her struggle with her health. One thing I know is that I played a lot of my golf for parental approval. I don’t know if that’s a good or not, but it’s true. I can’t imagine that there’s anything wrong with that. My family has always been my highest priority. If somebody wants to get on Twitter and say, “What an underachiever!” go right ahead. I’m happy where I am. I’m 52, my wife, Robin, and I have been married for 31 years, we have two wonderful children, and last year, we became grandparents. Yes, I’m a grandfather.
But that doesn’t mean I’m ready for the senior tour quite yet.