Davis Love III hopes for a neck-and-neck finish
If the storytellers have their way, Sunday in sports will be dedicated to neck surgeons of the world.
Let’s say that, in addition to Peyton Manning leading his Denver Broncos into the Super Bowl, Davis Love III is holding up a trophy on the 18th green of the Humana Challenge golf tournament at La Quinta.
That might make it time to bronze some scalpels.
Manning’s neck surgery has been well-documented. So has his amazing comeback. Not so much Love’s.
A year ago at this event, Love went to the trainer’s trailer and, complaining of neck pain, was put through the paces.
“I couldn’t even lift an eight-pound weight in one of those arm lifts behind my head,” Love said Wednesday. “The other day, I tried it again and did 15 pounds with either arm and with no trouble.”
For Love, last year’s Humana was the beginning of an end. This year’s is the beginning of a beginning.
He played one round the week after the Humana and went home to St. Simons Island, Ga., for surgery. He didn’t play for three months, played only 11 more times in 2013 and missed the cut four of those times. His best finish was a tie for ninth at the Greenbrier Classic.
For many, Love’s situation would be the normal story of a late-career injury and accompanying decline. Less likely for Love. His muscles and game do not seem to comprehend age. Plus, his tour situation is perfect for going on.
He is a former major champion, winning the 1997 PGA. He also will turn 50 April 13, Masters Sunday. Others would be primed to join the Champions Tour, the lucrative age-50 mulligan unique to golf. Less likely for Love.
“I’m pretty cocky,” he said. “I think I can still do it on this tour for three, four more years.”
Tournament entry is not a problem. He has won 20 PGA Tour events, making him exempt for lifetime on both the PGA and Champions Tour.
Nor is the matter of length off the tee, that normal scourge that starts costing golfers five yards a year along about age 40.
“I’m still tour long,” he said. “There is also a group of guys, like Dustin Johnson, who are another level beyond that.”
Even when he returned from the surgery last year and struggled, he led one tournament in birdies and another in ball-striking.
Love, who hasn’t won since 2008 and has fallen to 341st in the world rankings, is also a realist.
“I have to chip and putt,” he said. “We all do out here. That’s how we make our money.”
He said his goal this year is to establish that he is back to the level needed to compete for majors. Then, in 2015, to have a big year.
“I know how this works,” he said. “A lot of guys get to age 45 and just kind of chip it around, waiting for the senior tour. I’m not there yet. I want to play on this tour until I prove that I can’t.”
Love has the pedigree for extended success. Most important, he is an elder statesman with a major title.
“I’ll never forget Nick Price coming up to me after I won in ’97,” Love said, “and saying, ‘Welcome to the club.’ I understand the significance. Other players look at you a little differently once you get that major.”
This will be his 29th year on the tour. He has won more than $42 million in prize money and was the U.S. Ryder Cup captain in 2012, his team beaten by a stunning Sunday European rally.
“I wouldn’t change a thing, except maybe losing,” he said. “It was a surreal experience. I couldn’t have enjoyed my time with the guys more, and I remember sitting there and thinking how hard it was to believe they let me do this.”
Now, he says, he has told this year’s Ryder Cup captain, Tom Watson, that he is aiming to make the team as a player. It would be his seventh selection, and would span two decades. His first was 1993.
He learned the game from his father, Davis Love Jr., who taught him to stand wide, swing full and stay on balance.
“My brother and I were just kids,” he said, “and he said we could fix the other stuff later.”
The golf genes are evident.
Love’s father led the Masters early in 1964 but faltered. The day after that Masters ended, Davis was born.
“He said having a baby about to be born made him nervous,” Love said. “I think leading the Masters made him nervous.”
In 1988, his father died in a commuter plane crash on a short route from St. Simons Island to Jacksonville, Fla.
“We took that little hop all the time,” Love said.
Now, as he battles time and tricky greens, Davis Love is surrounded by youth and embraces it. His pairing Thursday is with Webb Simpson, one of his Ryder Cup players. Nearby will be the likes of Bill Haas and Kevin Tway, sons of Jay and Bob, Love’s contemporaries on tour.
“I remember when Kevin Tway was born,” he said. “And I used to give Bill Haas some of my golf shirts.”
Love said he is a big Peyton Manning fan.
“His surgery and mine were exactly the same,” he said.
He will be interested in the Broncos game, but he hopes he will be too busy during the game to know specifics.
Maybe later, after some trophy-hoisting.
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