Davis Love III is the Al Pacino of U.S. golf.
As Michael Corleone in “The Godfather,” Pacino uttered one of the great movie lines: “Just when I thought I was out…they pulled me back in.” In much the same fashion, Love III thought he was done as America’s favorite cart driver after riding off in the sunset last fall as the winning captain of the American side at the Presidents Cup, but just like Corleone he has been called back for another tour of duty as a buggy driver for U.S. captain Zach Johnson next week at the 44th edition of the Ryder Cup in Rome.
“Well, I keep telling guys that I’m ready to be done,” Love said of his latest role as U.S. vice captain. “But I’ve heard a lot of chatter about ‘Oh, no, here we go, Davis Love again. What about some new guys?’
“And then I had one friend of mine say, ‘I’d quit worrying about it, you guys are winning.’ ”
Indeed, since the Task Force installed Love as Ryder Cup captain for 2016, Team USA has won five of its last six Cups between Presidents and Ryder Cup, with its only loss at the 2018 Ryder Cup in Paris. Love twice has served as Ryder Cup captain, including in 2016 when he led the U.S. to a 17-11 victory at Hazeltine National Golf Club and in 2012 at Medinah Country Club when the Euros rallied from a 10-6 deficit on the final day. The 59-year-old Love also has served as vice captain in 2010, ‘18 and ‘21. Love played in six Ryder Cups dating from the last time Team USA won on European soil in 1993 (also ‘95, ‘97, ‘99, 2002, ‘04), and has 21 career PGA Tour victories, including the 1997 PGA Championship.
Johnson said he will lean heavily on Love, someone he holds in the highest respect, next week in Rome. Love and Johnson both reside on Saint Simons Island, a picturesque corner of southern Georgia, where Love is known as “Uncle Davis” or “The Godfather” of what is affectionately known as the Sea Island Mafia. When asked to describe what Love means to the team, Johnson said, “He’s always been a role model for me on the golf course. I tend to attract myself to individuals that are slow to speak and quick to listen and he would be the epitome of that. He’s very cerebral, very wise but he also can be just one of the guys. He looks through a lens that is not about himself, ever, and is always about efficiency, effectiveness and keeping the main thing the main thing. In this day and age, it seems like he’s become a rare breed, unfortunately. He’s just a tremendous person and someone that you trust and is just a high integrity guy.”
It stands to reason to have some veteran leadership in Team USA’s backroom, but Stewart Cink, who was Johnson’s final addition as a vice captain, represents the only new blood. Love got a rare second turn as Ryder Cup captain in 2016 and guided the U.S. to victory. He remained involved in 2018 as a vice captain to Jim Furyk, with the idea that the past captain could pass down all the experience he gained in the role to his successor. But the next captain, Steve Stricker, convinced Love to serve again in that capacity at Whistling Straits. Then, Tiger Woods and PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan sold Love on the fact that as a Tar Heel, he was the right man to lead the U.S. in his native Charlotte at last year’s Presidents Cup.
“I mean, at some point, he probably does have to take a backseat but the guys want to be around both him and Fred (Couples). There’s a continuity year after year right now and I understand that can be frustrating for some, like, there’s not new guys coming in,” Johnson said, “but at the same time we feel like we do have some individuals that we consult with and ones that are vice captains that can be a captain at some point whether it’s Presidents or Ryder Cup. I’m not concerned about it nor is anybody else.”
“I was the same way,” Love said. “I wanted Fred at the Presidents Cup because I hadn’t hardly been at a Presidents Cup without Fred. So there’s a comfort level for the captain. And, you know, there are a lot of guys on the team that I know, and some that are probably tired of me, but at least they know what they’re getting.”