AT LONG LAST, LOVE DAVIS LOVE III ENDED A CAREER-LONG STRING OF MAJOR DISAPPOINTMENTS WITH A DECISIVE WIN AT THE PGA CHAMPIONSHIP

August 24, 1997

Davis Love III stepped triumphantly onto the 18th green at the
Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y., on Sunday with the
79th PGA Championship in hand, but the most pent-up man in golf
still had a tight grip on his fragile emotions. During the best
18 holes he has ever played--a 66 that will stand as one of the
greatest final rounds in a major championship--the sensitive
Love had avoided looking at his playing partner and sole
challenger, Justin Leonard, because he felt bad about how much
he wanted to beat a friend. Now, as his dream was being
fulfilled and he thought about his father, who was the most
important figure in his life, he avoided the eyes of his wife,
Robin; his brother and caddie, Mark; and his mother, Penta. He
especially didn't want to look at the glorious rainbow that had
so suddenly appeared in the sky to frame his finest hour.

But when destiny drove in Love's 12-foot birdie putt the way it
often does when a man has thoroughly made a championship his,
the wraps came off. He grabbed his visor and swung it sidearm so
hard that his right leg kicked up in a high follow-through, a
very un-Love-ly move that Arnie or Tiger would have been proud
of. He then hugged Leonard, held his brother, and embraced
Robin. Finally, when he saw his mother, with whom--more than
anyone else--he had shared the pain of losing his father and
teacher, Davis Love Jr., in a 1988 plane crash, he clutched her
so hard she was lifted off her feet. "Dad knows what you've
done," Penta whispered. Her son answered huskily, "I know."

Perhaps now Davis Love III has been unchained. The golfer
universally admired for his pure swing and character, but
considered by many peers to lack the competitive mean streak
necessary to be a champion, came away from Winged Foot with his
major--won in a manner that loudly proclaimed he can win many
more.

"This was a big deal," said Fred Couples, the casual man who
doesn't use that phrase casually. "Davis has so much talent, but
he's just had to learn to get out of his own way and let his
ability take over. Now that he's got this major, I think he'll
just take off."

That Love broke through so spectacularly at Winged Foot lends
added weight to Couples's prediction. In the four major
championships played there before last week, only Fuzzy Zoeller
and Greg Norman in the 1984 U.S. Open had ever broken the
72-hole par of 280, each scoring 276. On the strength of 66s in
the first, third and fourth rounds, Love shot an 11-under 269 to
win by five over Leonard, the 25-year-old British Open champion.
Love overwhelmed Leonard and everyone else with a blend of power
and precision. He averaged 307 yards off the tee to lead the
field in driving distance. (Tiger Woods at 298 yards and John
Daly at 296 were the next longest.) And not only did Love hit
more of Winged Foot's inordinately small greens in regulation
than all but six other players, but he also kept his approaches
below the hole, consistently giving himself uphill rolls that
allowed him to avoid three-putting on the severely pitched and
humped greens. "I've never had more control of my game or felt
better under pressure," said Love.

Rain might have softened the course and effectively widened the
fairways, but besides Love and Leonard, only two other players
finished under par, Jeff Maggert at 276 and Lee Janzen at 279.
"It was a perfect test of the highest golf," said Ernie Els, the
U.S. Open champion, who was 10 over and tied for 53rd. "My game
couldn't handle it this week, but I've got no complaints. Winged
Foot elevates the PGA Championship."

As it elevated Love. Although he had won 10 times in his 12
years on the Tour, Love had been frustrated in the major
championships. He didn't have a top 10 finish in his first 27
majors, and while he had had four since 1995, Love's
best-remembered performance was his three-putt from 20 feet to
bogey the 72nd hole of the 1996 U.S. Open at Oakland Hills when
a par would have gotten him into a playoff. "I've had a hard
time just letting myself play my game in majors," Love said on
Sunday. "I finally really did it this week."

Such a performance was somewhat unexpected in a year of
misfortune for Love. A kidney stone hurt his play early in the
year, and he was disqualified from the Players Championship in
March for signing an incorrect scorecard after an inadvertent
rules violation. That cost him more than $80,000 and 20 Ryder
Cup points. With no victories in recent weeks, he was in danger
of slipping completely off the Ryder Cup team. He hit bottom at
the British Open last month at Troon when he made a
quadruple-bogey 7 on the par-3 Postage Stamp on Saturday to
knock himself out of contention. "I remember wondering very
seriously if I have what it takes to win a major championship,"
he said at Winged Foot.

After some soul searching, Love decided he did, worked hard with
his swing coach, Jack Lumpkin, and with sports psychologist Bob
Rotella, and came to last week's tournament as confident and
relaxed as he has ever been at a major. Some pressure was
relieved when he learned that Ryder Cup captain Tom Kite had
told other players that if Love failed to qualify on points, he
would be a captain's choice. "That freed him up," said Couples,
who rented a home near Winged Foot with Love and his family. "It
had been wearing on him."

Said Penta, "Davis had a peace this week that just made me think
it was finally his time."

Going into Sunday's play, however, that might have been an
assessment only a mother could make. Leonard had demonstrated
all week why his scrappy style makes him so dangerous on tough
courses. On Thursday he hit only seven greens in regulation, but
he recovered to save par eight times and chipped in once for
birdie while putting up a 68. He was even better on Saturday,
with a course-record 65 to put him at seven under, tied with
Love seven shots ahead of the field.

Meanwhile, Love's history of not closing the door seemed to make
him vulnerable against a player as steady as Leonard. And with
Leonard, Woods, Els and Phil Mickelson becoming the most potent
forces in the game, Love, 33, couldn't have been blamed for
fearing that his chances to win majors in the future would be
diminished.

But it was Leonard who fell behind early on Sunday and trailed
by five strokes at the turn. Then, on the par-5 12th, he made
his move, picking up two strokes with a birdie while Love had to
scramble to make bogey. On the par-3 13th, Leonard drilled a
three-iron to 15 feet while Love pulled a four-iron into the
deep rough left of the green. That was when Love bore down. He
hit a soft flop shot that nearly went in the hole, spinning out
to two feet. When Leonard missed his birdie try, Love felt in
control. "That shot was what it's all about, seeing the target
and trusting," says Rotella, who has worked with Love since
1982, when Love was a senior at Glynn Academy in Brunswick, Ga.

Now the challenge for Love was to keep his emotions from
bubbling over. When Love's father was killed, Davis III lost a
lot of his joy for the game because so much of it had come from
sharing his successes and struggles with his dad. In 1992 in
particular, when Love played the best golf of his career and won
$1 million before the end of April, observers were shocked at
how repelled he seemed by the expectations and demands stardom
carried. In retrospect, Love says, he was still coming to terms
with his father's death. He believes a turning point occurred
with his work on a book about his relationship with his father,
titled Every Shot I Take.

"Nothing will ever replace the relationship I had with my dad,
but I've found my own reasons to love the game now," Love said
as he sat in the empty locker room hours after his victory. "I
want to be the Number 1 player in the world. If my dad were here
he would say, 'O.K., let's take the next step.' I'm learning to
let myself go. Whether it's letting go of my feelings about my
dad by talking or writing about them, or my golf game, just by
letting myself play, it's all related. This week I just felt
much freer, on and off the course."

The unburdening is something his family has encouraged. "I know
so often he was thinking about his dad even if he wasn't talking
about it," said Penta. "I'd say, 'Davis, you've got to let it
go.' I know he'll never completely do that because he and his
father were so close. But winning today will help him. He knows
his father is proud, and that he's with him. That was the
rainbow."

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECK The usually stoic Love punctuated his victory with an emphatic flourish. [Davis Love III lifting hat as spectators cheer] COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECK Leonard's steely performance at Winged Foot proved that his British Open victory was no fluke. [Justin Leonard golfing]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)