The night began promisingly, the way so many Hawaiian nights do.
The young golfer was in his hotel room, his hair still wet from
a swim. He was jet-lagged, tired, happy. His wife was sorting
through clothes for dinner. The smell of perfume wafted from the
bathroom, and heavy sea air floated through the open patio door.
He could hear the songbirds, the surf, the wind rattling giant
"I'm going to call my mom and see how Lexie's doing," Davis Love
III, then 24, told his wife, Robin. After flying all day, they
had just checked into the Kapalua Bay Hotel, an oasis of luxury
in the civil wilderness of Maui. Love was there to play in a
friendly postseason tournament, the Kapalua International. The
Loves' daughter, Lexie, five months old, was at their home in
St. Simons, Ga., being cared for by Davis's mother, Penta.
When Love reached his mother, she was hysterical. "Dad's plane
has fallen off the radar," the mother told her son. Davis Love
Jr., a well-known golf instructor, was supposed to be making a
routine 20-minute flight in a small single-engine plane, a Piper
Cherokee, from St. Simons to Jacksonville, the first leg of a
trip to Tampa. Davis III mouthed words of hope to his mother.
"We'll take the next plane home," he told her. In his heart, he
knew the truth.
That was on Nov. 13, 1988, nine years ago. Last week the Loves
were back at Kapalua for the 16th, and last, Kapalua
International. Love has played in the tournament every year
since '88, even though returning has meant reliving the most
painful night of his life.
November 17, 1997
Kapalua has also brought Love happiness. He finished second in
1986 and again in '91, when he lost in a playoff to one of his
close friends, Mike Hulbert. The next year he won the
tournament, and he won last week, too, by three shots over David
Toms. Every year at Kapalua there are parties and dinners and
snorkeling trips and a bunch of good friends to hang out with,
particularly Fred Couples, a world-class hanger-outer. Couples
was absent this year--with his chronically bad back, he is
avoiding long flights whenever he can--but he has taught Love,
predisposed to constant activity, well. On any given afternoon
last week, as many as eight Loves could be found poolside: Davis
and Robin and their two children, Lexie, now nine, and Dru, who
turns four next month; Davis's brother and caddie, Mark, his
wife, Lynn, and their infant son, Lowrey; and Penta. When he
wasn't on the course, Davis was with his kids. Last Saturday
afternoon, after a third-round 67 left him in a tie for the lead
with Toms, Love headed to the practice tee--not to hit balls,
but to watch Dru whack a few.
Out of the darkness of that long night nine years ago, strong
friendships were forged. When Love hung up after talking with
his mother, the first person he called while trying to find a
flight from Maui was Mark Rolfing. He also called a California
businessman he knew, Jim Griggs. Griggs owned a jet, a Falcon
10, and Love asked if he could charter the plane to make the
long flight from San Francisco back to the little airport in St.
To the sports-watching public, Rolfing, who played
professionally (and unspectacularly) overseas for a couple of
years two decades ago, is known as a television commentator.
Last month Rolfing left ABC, where he had been an analyst since
1992, to return to NBC, where he had worked for four years
beginning in 1988. His TV persona--marked by a composed smile
and gentle interviews--gives no hint that Rolfing is a highly
successful entrepreneur. He was the force behind the creation,
in 1991, of the Plantation Course at Kapalua. The sale of 30 or
so $2 million lots around the course has made him a wealthy man.
Rolfing, who played golf and roomed at DePauw with Dan Quayle,
is also the tournament director of the Kapalua International,
which he founded in 1982.
Rolfing has had a major role in Love's career and, indirectly,
in his personal life. In January 1986 Love played in his first
professional event, the Bahamas Classic, at the invitation of
Rolfing, who was then that tournament's director. Love finished
third and won $24,000. After that payday he figured he had
enough financial security to ask Robin to marry him.
Nine years ago, when Rolfing heard Love say that his father's
airplane had fallen off the radar, he felt ill. In November
1960, when Rolfing was 11, his father's plane had fallen off the
radar. Jim Rolfing was the president of Wurlitzer, the organ
manufacturer. The small plane carrying Rolfing and three other
Wurlitzer executives crashed into Lake Michigan. All four men on
the flight were killed. It took days to recover the plane and
weeks to recover the bodies.
So on that night at Kapalua, Rolfing put on a brave face for
Love's benefit. He told Love, "You'll get to San Francisco,
you'll find out that your father's O.K., you'll come back and
play in the tournament." Inside, he was already grieving for his
For Love, the ensuing six-hour flight to San Francisco was
torture. He boarded knowing nothing about the whereabouts of his
father's plane, which carried a pilot and two other Sea Island
teaching pros, John Popa and Jimmy Hodges. After his father,
Hodges was Davis III's best friend--his golf, fishing and
hunting partner. There were no telephones on Davis III's flight,
but the pilots were alerted to pass along any information they
might receive. All through the trip Robin, who was extremely
close to her father-in-law, was inconsolable. Every time a
flight attendant passed by, Robin would ask, "Any news at all?"
As they came off the plane in San Francisco, the Loves were
greeted by Griggs. They walked to baggage claim, and Davis went
to a telephone and called home. He reached his brother. "They
found the plane," Mark said. "There were no survivors."
Davis turned to Griggs and Robin and told them the news. He
wept. Robin sobbed. Griggs hugged them both and led them in a
prayer. He put them on his plane, and the Loves flew home. It
was a long, quiet flight.
In the years since then Griggs has become a surrogate father to
Love. This week Griggs, Love and Hulbert are salmon fishing near
the California-Oregon border. Griggs, who lives in Pebble Beach,
is the host of a charity tournament, held on the Monday before
the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, that raises money for a
scholarship fund honoring Davis Love Jr. Davis III and his
friend and fellow pro Joey Sindelar stay with Griggs each year
during the AT&T. Love and Griggs have a relationship in which
they can talk about anything, and they do. "I never had the
pleasure of meeting Davis's father," says Griggs, "but I feel I
know him very well."
The similarities of their fathers' deaths have given Rolfing and
Love a bond they would not otherwise have. On Sunday morning, as
Love and Toms went off in the tournament's final group, Rolfing
couldn't help but root for Love. But friendship was not his only
reason. In January 1999, the Mercedes Championships, the annual
season-opening event for the winners of the previous year's
tournaments, will move from the La Costa Resort, near San Diego,
to Kapalua, ending the International's run. Thus, as Rolfing saw
it, a victory by Love would be a fitting and moving final act.
Love has been saying for years that winning Kapalua has meant as
much to him as most of his 12 Tour wins. He talks about maybe
someday buying a house in Kapalua. The sorrow shared with
Rolfing at Kapalua one day nine years ago only increases his
feeling for the place.
The tournament has been a gem. Admission is free, and the size
of the crowds--about 2,000 people, tops--is ideal. The
7,293-yard par-73 Plantation Course (one of two the tournament
was played on), designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, is
awesome. It features broad fairways (one 97 yards in width),
immense greens, huge elevation changes and amazing views of the
This has been a peculiar season for Love, his best and also his
oddest. For months on end he struck the ball beautifully but
couldn't get into the hunt. He missed several weeks after a
kidney-stone operation in February and lost another week when he
was disqualified from the Players Championship in March for
inadvertently signing an incorrect scorecard. He won his first
major, the PGA Championship at Winged Foot in August, then
failed to earn even a half point the next month at the Ryder
Cup. Love returned to the Tour the following week and won the
Buick Challenge. Two weeks ago he had a two-shot lead with six
holes to go in the Tour Championship but ended up in third. Then
he won at Kapalua.
Love beat Toms by three shots with rounds of 67, 66, 67 and 68,
22 under par. The clincher came when Love stiffed his second
shot at the par-5 72nd hole. He hit a 266-yard three-iron from a
downhill lie that finished seven feet from the cup. It was the
final shot onto the final green in the final playing of the
Kapalua International. The shot won Love a Lincoln Navigator for
coming the closest to the hole in two strokes, and it nailed
down the $216,000 winner's prize.
Poor Toms never really had a chance, and neither did the rest of
the field. Shortly before teeing off on Sunday, Love looked up
and saw a rainbow arcing over the course. A rainbow had also
emerged just as Love was winning the PGA. A few hours later, in
triumph, Love was subdued, contented, fulfilled. He thought
about his father, the end of the tournament and the passage of
time. At the awards ceremony he stood beside Rolfing on the 18th
green. On Monday he flew to San Francisco to meet up with Griggs
for their fishing trip.
Davis Jr. used to say the single greatest thing about golf is
the friendships that come out of the game. Leaving Kapalua,
Davis III knew the truth in that.