July 18, 2016

Tough Questions Loom For Ryder Cup Team Captain Davis Love III


Benton A. Emblom, M.D.

To read the entire article by T.J. Auclair, click here.

The final round of the 145th Open Championship at Royal Troon on Sunday provided one of the greatest duels you'll ever see in a major championship. 

Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson traded birdies back and forth all day in a golf slugfest, before Stenson went on to claim his first major title. Mickelson, a five-time major winner and the runner-up, finished an astounding 11 shots clear of third-place finisher J.B. Holmes. 

Mickelson's 6-under 65 in the final round was bettered only by Stenson's 8-under 63, which tied the lowest 18-hole score in major championship history.

So how do you follow that up? Maybe with an encore performance in Sunday singles at Hazeltine in the 2016 Ryder Cup?

That's a match Ryder Cup USA Captain Davis Love III wouldn't mind seeing. He told us as much when we caught up with him Monday morning on his "workcation" in Cabo to talk about what was an Open for the ages, as well as how his U.S. team is shaping up with three majors in the books.

PGA.com: What did you make of that finish at Royal Troon?

Love: Unfortunately, I was in the air headed to Cabo while they were playing, but I did catch the highlights. What a round. It was so much fun to see these guys executing and matching each other shot for shot. 

PGA.com: If you told Phil Mickelson he was going to enter Sunday trailing by one stroke, but shoot a 65 in the final round, do you think the fair question would be, "So how many do you think you'll win by?"

Love: When you're in the heat of the battle, you're not really thinking about the score you need to shoot to win -- especially when it comes down to a match-play situation like it was for Phil and Henrik on the weekend. You want to make sure you're keeping pace with the guy you're playing with when you're that far our ahead of the rest of the field.

That said, Phil was probably thinking that anything in the mid-60s -- especially in those conditions -- would be enough to get the win. We've all been there where we shoot a score that would pretty much win any other tournament. Shoot, I saw the stat that said Phil's score would have won 140 Open Championships, but it wasn't enough to win this one. 

Phil is always so prepared not just to play in the majors, but to give himself a good shot at winning them. But, man, he's been so unfortunate. Other than Jack Nicklaus, Phil is probably the most unfortunate guy in major history. Take Tiger Woods out of the equation, Stenson on Sunday, a few bad breaks -- Phil probably wins double the majors he has right now.   

Editor's note: While Jack Nicklaus is the winningest major champion in major history with 18 victories, his 19 runner-up finishes are also most all time. Mickelson, with 11 runner-up finishes in majors, is second on the list. 

PGA.com: Surely everyone would love to see a Stenson/Mickelson rematch at Hazeltine. It's a random draw on pairings, but would you be a fan of that match-up too either in the team portion or singles?

Love: That would be awesome at Hazeltine. It would be a battle we remember forever and I'm sure Phil would like another shot at Henrik as well.

PGA.com: While an American didn't win the Open, eight of them finished inside the top 12, which had to be an encouraging sign for you.

Love: You know, when Danny Willett won the Masters, I said that didn't equate to Europe necessarily winning the Ryder Cup. I feel the same way right now about the Open. There were American flags all over the top of that leaderboard. It doesn't say our team is better than theirs, but I love seeing all those flags up so high in these big-time events.

My dad always said low-American at the Open was a big deal. We had a lot of our guys behind that guy -- Phil -- this last week too. The world is a big place and the American players are still hanging in there in every event. We're very competitive. Dustin, Phil and others are competing every week for wins. That shows the strength of our team and our Tour. 

PGA.com: Is luck of the draw tee time-wise more significant at the Open than any other tournament? I'm looking primarily at Jordan Spieth (T30), Rory McIlroy (T5) and Jason Day (T22), who really experienced the worst of the conditions the first two days and were never much of a factor.

Love: Luck of the draw happens for sure and I think it's fair to say it happens in an Open more so than anywhere else. It's the length of the days on Thursday and Friday with everyone going off the first tee. Shoot, I remember one year at St. Andrews I was complaining about how every hole I played was into the wind. Payne Stewart, who was on the other side of the draw, said to me, "Every hole I played was downwind."

It all evens out. One year you get the good wave; one year you get the bad wave. You have to deal with it. That's just links golf. If you get frustrated with it, you won't be successful there. Tom Watson did so well because he went with the attitude that it's going to be weird, but he loved that aspect. You're going to get wind, you're going to get rain, it's going to be cold. Your attitude is going to be a significant part of your score. Nobody had a better attitude than Watson when it came to that and that's why he won a bunch of them. 

Phil has a great attitude about it too. And, like you said, Rory. He snuck into the top 5 from just really hanging in there. He really hung in there all week and was able to ground out a good finish. Let's face it -- it was pretty much two tournaments. There was Phil and Henrik and then everyone else. Rory did well in that second tournament with the bad draw. 

PGA.com: After the U.S. Open, we talked about your Vice Captain Jim Furyk and his runner-up finish. This time, it's Vice Captain Steve Stricker. He finished fourth at Royal Troon and jumped from No. 49 to No. 23 in the standings. What gives?

Love: Steve is one of the guys that I respect the most late in his career. He's a part-time golfer right now. He's doing what’s best for his family, his body and his outlook, but he plays great when he plays. He plays when he wants to and how he wants to.

Steve turns down an awful lot of money to do it his way. Bruce Lietzke did it that way too. As the Captain, I have to factor that in when I look at the points. Steve has played in half the events as most of the other guys and he's No. 23 right now. Look what he's done in his body of work. That's some great golf and it puts me in a spot where I have to think about him -- especially with guys like Brooks Koepka and Daniel Berger battling injuries right now. What's best for the team?

It's going to be interesting with the PGA next week. How much will Strick play after that? That's why it's so nice to have all the Vice Captains we have and Advisors we have. Phil said he'd make the team and he probably has on points. So he's someone that Tom Lehman, Tiger Woods (two other USA Vice Captains) and me will be talking to. 

What do we do with Stricker, Koepka and Berger? We have guys that have played great, but are hurt, and a guy who's a Ryder Cup veteran who's playing great. It's going to take a lot of thought. It's supposed to get clearer as we get closer -- and the top 8 will undoubtedly become clearer. But, when it comes to Captain's Picks, it gets cloudier and cloudier. Scott Piercy is playing so well and has wanted to make it so bad. That's what makes it fun though -- these discussions and things that can happen. 

If anything, I think it might narrow down the conversations a little -- with the way Jim and Steve have been playing, we can leave them out of the conversation and I can just talk to Tom and Tiger about it. 

PGA.com: Last thing regarding the Open. How about J.B. Holmes? He had his best finish in a major -- third -- and leaped from No. 12 to No. 5 and is oh-so-close to his second Ryder Cup appearance.

Love: We've seen some good shifts. J.B. Holmes is built for Hazeltine. So is Zach Johnson, which doesn't make sense, but the wedge game is crucial there. We have a lot of guys in the top 25 who are great with the wedges. 

That's huge on long par 5s and long par 4s. The top 25 looks unbelievably strong there. You could take the top 25 and make two strong teams. We're in a good position, but just don't know about the locks yet. I think the current top 5, which includes J.B., looks pretty solid right now. 

And then, kind of like the Presidents Cup last year -- we're not going without Phil Mickelson. We might be at that point again because he's one of best leaders in the world. 

There are lots of guys playing really well. Look at Justin Thomas. Where would he be with Malaysia points for his win in November? Kevin Na? Berger -- got hurt when right after he won in Memphis. Where would he be with more quality starts? We need to keep an eye on Brooks Koepka. His power would be great at Hazeltine and he'd pair up well. Furyk was out six months almost recovering from an injury. There's another guy that should probably be in top 5 if he didn't get hurt.

There's a lot to look at. There's a lot of reasons you want to be Captain and a lot you of reasons you don't want to be as you get closer. We're closing in on the tough decisions now. 

PGA.com: What are you doing in Cabo right now?

Love: We're working on a course we built a while back, tweaking a hole and turning the trip into a 50th birthday trip for my brother too. The course is Diamante -- a top-100 course in the world. It's in the sand dunes on Pacific side of Cabo and we're always tweaking it because the wind blows and the development changes. 

I don't think there's a top-100 course in the world that's been tweaked so much. It's a cool place.

PGA.com: How's your recovery going from your surgery?

Love: It's going great. The only problem is the doctors and therapists holding me back. I feel so much better than I was. The problem is I want to do Week 3 of rehab when I'm only on Week 2. The doctors and therapists have been on me to pump the breaks and stick to the plan. I need to calm down. Even though I'm bummed out about having to miss the PGA Championship and defending the Wyndham Championship, I'm so happy I got it done.

PGA.com: Finally, even though you won't be playing, do you have plans to head to Baltusrol at all next week?

Love: I'll be up at least Monday and Tuesday. I've got some stuff to do with sponsors and for Ryder Cup. I'm also receiving an award and I certainly didn't want to miss the Past Champions Dinner. 

In terms of Ryder Cup, we usually have a dinner during PGA week with a bunch of the guys, but I'm not sure that's going to be necessary next week since it's so early this year.

I'm going to Baltusrol to see the guys, congratulate them on playing well and to be seen without crutches, hopefully.