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A Major Love Affair

Davis Love III turns his passion toward capturing one of golf's Grand Slam tournaments.
Jeff Williams
From the Print Edition:
Claudia Schiffer, Jul/Aug 97

(continued from page 2)

Meanwhile, in Austin, Texas, legendary golf coach Harvey Penick was near death as Masters time approached. He was best known as the coach of Ben Crenshaw and Tom Kite, but he had also coached Davis Love II when he was attending the University of Texas, and he later got to know Davis III. Shortly after Love's win in New Orleans, Harvey Penick died, but not before being told that Love had made the Masters with a desperate victory.

Crenshaw credited the hand of Harvey Penick, coming down from on high, with guiding him to his emotional and surprising victory in the 1995 Masters. When Crenshaw and Kite were returning to Austin for Penick's funeral just before the Masters began, Crenshaw told Love to stay and practice because that's what Penick would have wanted him to do. He did, and he finished second, his first near miss in a major. Love also tied for fourth in the 1995 U.S. Open before tying for second at Oakland Hills last year.

He's a work in progress, one who's come a long way since he quit the University of North Carolina after two years to turn professional. (Love is the player who gave fellow Tar Heel Michael Jordan his first set of clubs.) When Jordan's golf gambling difficulties became known, Love would often say, "I feel like the person who gave Dillinger his first gun."

Through the travail of his father's death and the disappointment of his performance in major tournaments, Love remains one of the most approachable and decent fellows on the tour. He makes sure to introduce himself to all the volunteers who walk with his group as scorekeepers or sign carriers. He's uniformly polite in victory or defeat. At the 1993 Ryder Cup in England, when a European Tour team member's daughter fell violently ill and was taken to the hospital, Love wrote a note to the family expressing his family's support. In addition to being raised to be a golfer--and a world-class one--he was also raised to be a gentleman, and a world-class one at that. He is far from being a one-dimensional golf clone, and his many facets might be a contributing factor to his improvement. At least Faxon thinks so.

At the 1995 Ryder Cup in Rochester, New York, Love spotted Faxon in the hall of the team's hotel and, in a sort of impassioned stage whisper, asked him to come to his room to see something. What, thought Faxon, could be so important during this incredibly pressure-filled event? A new driver? A fancy cashmere sweater? A box of Cubans? From under the bed in his hotel room, Love pulled out a large case that obviously wasn't meant to hold golf clubs, and probably not sweaters or cigars, either. From inside the case he extracted a huge hunting bow, a high-tech compound bow with all sorts of widgets and whatsits on it. "He was just so proud of this thing," says Faxon. "He'd got it the week before in the Binghamton [New York, event], where we had just played a tournament. It cost $2,000. He was just so proud of it that he had to show it to somebody."

Love's ability to diversify his life has taken some of the pressure off golf. "I think he's a better player since he's taken on all these things in his life," says Faxon. "I mean, I don't think he's a better player because he smokes cigars, but he's a better player for getting his mind off the game and avoiding burnout."

For Love, avoiding burnout means little more than returning to Sea Island. "I don't see myself playing hard until I make the Senior Tour," he says. "I'd like to do other things. I'd like to get out of the limelight. Sure, I'd like to be successful [enough] to walk away from the game. Maybe show up at the Masters every year and be an elder statesman. But I'd also like to win a major, and I'll be trying hard for a long time to do that."

Back on Sea Island, Love goes to the practice range, or out on the golf course, with cigars in his bag. Half the reason for playing golf when he's home is so that he can smoke cigars with his buddies. And you know what? Even a $15 dollar Cuban keeps the bugs away.

Jeff Williams is a senior sportswriter for Newsday.


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