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Troubled Water Davis Love came to Harbour Town on his 53-footer, seeking a post-Masters refuge, but his week again came to a stormy end

April 26, 1999
April 26, 1999

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April 26, 1999

Faces In The Crowd

Troubled Water Davis Love came to Harbour Town on his 53-footer, seeking a post-Masters refuge, but his week again came to a stormy end

For Davis Love III, a long night was about to begin. The Masters
had just ended and he was again the runner-up, for the second
time in five years. The first time, in 1995 when Ben Crenshaw
won days after the death of Harvey Penick, felt almost good.
This one did not. The evening air was humid and moist and still,
more like midsummer than mid-April. Love sat on a bench on the
front porch of Augusta National Golf Club, beside the entrance
to the barbershop. His back ached. Dru, his five-year-old son,
was swinging a two-iron longer than he is tall, taking tiny
divots out of the club's front lawn. With half interest the
father told his son to quit doing that, quit doing that now. He
said out loud, "Where's Robin? Where is your mother?" Robin Love
was a few miles away, packing up their hotel room. The Loves had
been hoping to spend Sunday night in Augusta. The winner of the
tournament typically stays over an extra night.

This is an article from the April 26, 1999 issue

The club was surprisingly sleepy. Just a few hours earlier it
had been shaking with roars. Now almost everybody was gone. A
few members, some with their wives, strolled past Love, headed
to the members' Sunday-night dinner to honor the new champion.
Some of them briefly visited with Love, but there wasn't much to
say. Jose Maria Olazabal drove by in a golf cart wearing his
green coat. He didn't see the runner-up in the darkness, but the
runner-up saw him. "It was surreal," Love would say later. "I
felt like I should be going to that dinner." He had finished two
shots back.

Robin finally pulled up in the family Suburban, and the father
and son climbed in to begin the four-hour drive home, across the
hills of Georgia and into the Low Country, to Sea Island. The
golfer and his wife spoke about this and that, of home stuff in
low voices, the music barely on, so that their son could fall
asleep. Before too long the conversation turned to the
tournament.

"I can't believe I hit that shot," Love said at one point. He
was talking about his tee shot on the par-5 15th in the third
round. He mishit his drive and had to lay up. He didn't know he
was playing his third shot off an old divot, a sandy spot, until
he hit it. The shot finished in the water, and Love made a 7 on
a hole where he expects to have an eagle putt. He was mad
because he hit his drive when he wasn't prepared. There was some
noise among the spectators near the tee, and Love wanted to back
off and start again but for some reason did not. His goal is to
be fully committed to every shot he takes. That's what he's been
talking about with his sports psychologist, Bob Rotella, for 13
years. One subject for 13 years. On the 15th tee in the third
round he played a shot to which he was not fully committed. In
that one moment, he had failed his game plan. Damn!

Twenty hours later Davis and Robin were in their 53-foot boat,
the LexSea, named for their 10-year-old daughter, Lexie. They
were heading into the harbor at Harbour Town, on Hilton Head
Island, S.C., for the MCI Classic, the tournament that always
follows the Masters. Davis calls the LexSea his fishing boat, but
it's more of a floating house than anything else, which is why
the Loves stay on it during the week of the tournament. As they
approached the harbor, Love saw the Aussie Rules, Greg Norman's
142-foot boat. Norman was having a refreshment with two of the
important people in his life, his wife, Laura, and his caddie,
Tony Navarro. Davis waved and said to nobody in particular, "I
wonder what they're talking about." He had a pretty good idea.

For the 49 golfers who made the trip from Augusta to Hilton
Head--including Love, Norman and Tiger Woods--the MCI Classic
was a chance to recuperate from the Masters. Only Olazabal left
Augusta really happy, and probably nobody left more dissatisfied
than Love. He came to Hilton Head with a considerable agenda: to
get ahead of Woods in the World Ranking, to win the MCI for a
record fifth time, to relax. More than anything, he needed to
get the Masters behind him. The Harbour Town Golf Links by day,
the LexSea at night, these would be his tonics. At least, that's
what he was hoping.

Golfers are wistful, pro golfers especially so. Television shows
the skills of the best golfers playing shots only they can play.
The little pitch Love had holed on 16 on Masters Sunday--he
played beyond the hole in order to get his ball in it--was a
shot that few in the world could have pulled off in that
setting. Our society rewards that skill. In the case of Love it
has brought a big house, a big boat and a little jet, which he
leases. In the case of Norman it has brought a gargantuan house,
a gargantuan boat and a gargantuan plane, which he owns. The top
pros lead rich and public lives. They hide their private sorrows
from the on-course cameras. Out at sea, they are safe. They can
talk about the ones that got away.

On Tuesday, April 13, Love celebrated his 35th birthday by
having dinner with his wife and some friends. The next day he
played in the MCI pro-am with Jim Hodges, the governor of South
Carolina, and Lou Holtz, South Carolina's new football coach.
Last Thursday he opened the tournament with a 68 that could have
been a 64 if he had made his share of 16-footers. He has been
knocking down flagsticks all year. He has had four straight
chances to win--at Bay Hill, in the Players Championship, in the
BellSouth in Atlanta and at Augusta--in four straight weeks. He
began last week No. 2 on the 1999 money list without having won
a tournament and No. 3 on the World Ranking. A win on Hilton
Head would have inched him toward David Duval in earnings and
past Woods on the ranking. But Love played late on Friday, in a
cool wind, waiting on many tees, and he played poorly. His back
was acting up. When he marked his ball on the 18th green, he
threw it overhand, hard, to his brother and caddie, Mark. He
bogeyed the last hole for a 75 and made the cut on the button.
As he made the 400-yard walk from the clubhouse to Slip 51,
where the LexSea was tied up, the people he passed called out
words of encouragement and more than one man, borrowing words a
master might say to his dog, said, "Go get 'em, Davis." Love's
head was somewhere else.

To a degree, the holiday mood of the fans at Harbour Town
infects the tournament. A golfer can only be so relaxed in any
event, but playing the MCI Classic has never been confused with
playing the Masters. "Augusta puts you on edge," Love says.
"There are so many rules there. 'Be off the course Monday at
six.' There are so many things to worry about. 'Does everybody
in your family have a badge so they can get in?' Hilton Head is
like the anti-Augusta."

Hilton Head is like Sea Island, the resort where Love has lived
since 1978, when he moved there from Atlanta as a 14-year-old
with his brother and mother and teaching-pro father, Davis Love
Jr. Sea Island and Hilton Head are both flat and mellow and
quiet, and Love's comfort level is high at both. It was at
Hilton Head that Love got the first of his 13 Tour wins and the
only one while his father was alive. That was in April 1987.
After the victory Davis received a letter from his father in
which he wrote, "Your golf shots showed me that there will be
more wins, that you wanted to hit those shots under pressure,
that you liked being in the hunt. Some don't. You belong there.
My hat is off to your courage--and to your composure." Nineteen
months later Love's father was dead, killed in a plane crash.
Davis's best friend, Jimmy Hodges, and teaching pro John Popa
were killed in that crash, too. Since then, Love has won at
Harbour Town three more times, in 1991, '92 and '98.

Hilton Head has been wonderful for Love's career record, his
bank account and his collection of tartan sport coats, but it
has also been a harsh reminder that he doesn't have a green one.
Harbour Town, in theory, is ill-suited to a long whacker like
Love. (At the Masters, when Love learned that Woods would be
making his first appearance at Harbour Town, he said to him,
"You've got no chance there.") At Augusta National, the longer
you are, the better. So why has Love won four times on Hilton
Head and never at Augusta? You can't pose a question to Love
that he hasn't already posed to himself. "You try to get your
game to peak physically and mentally for the week of the
Masters," he says. "My physical game has been there at Augusta.
My mental game has always peaked here."

Almost always. Last Saturday--when he played in the second group
of the day and shot 74--everything came crashing in. The five
consecutive weeks of playing, the runner-up finish at Augusta,
his aching back, a sore hip, his thwarted hope of winning at
Harbour Town for a fifth time, his dashed hope of passing Woods
in the World Ranking all descended on him at once. On Saturday
afternoon, while Lexie and a friend cruised a Hilton Head mall,
Davis sat in the Suburban, parked in the mall's lot. He was
uncomfortable and stiff and unsure of what to do. He recalled a
recent conversation with his back specialist, Tom Boers. Boers
is the man who last winter encouraged Love to lose weight to
relieve the stress on his back, and Love has lost 20 pounds
since February by cutting out bread, potatoes and desserts.
Boers is the man who has put Love into a serious stretching
routine, a regimen that Love follows faithfully for a half hour
in the morning and a half hour at night. "What are you trying to
prove by playing so much?" Boers had asked Love. "You did the
same thing last year. You played too much early and you couldn't
make a swing by the time you got to the U.S. Open."

Love pondered all this in the parking lot, and then and there he
decided to withdraw from the tournament. It is something he has
only done twice before in his career, withdrawn from a
tournament in progress. He is thinking about not trying to
defend his title in the Chunichi Crowns event in Japan next
week, either. His back needs rest. "I could've played the last
round, scraping it around hitting a bunch of slices, but I
would've risked hurting myself more," Love said. He could have
shot 70-something, but he would not have been committed to each
shot. A Masters hangover is a doozy.

On Sunday morning Norman, playing in the third group of the day,
shot 74 for a four-round total of six-over 290, 16 strokes
behind the winner, Glen Day. In the afternoon Woods shot 71 for
a 280, six behind Day. At the same time Love was cruising south
on the LexSea, heading home, Day won his first Tour event like a
big-time pro. He shot a final-round 66 and was part of a
three-man playoff with Jeff Sluman and Payne Stewart. Day
promptly holed a 30-footer for birdie on the first, and last,
extra hole.

He was thrilled, of course. For one thing, he had distanced
himself from his 78-77 exhibition at Augusta. "You can't compare
anything to Augusta," Day said on Sunday night. "Professional
golf is tremendous highs and tremendous lows. There's got to be
a way to make a living with a lot less stress."

While Day was putting on his new tartan coat in a ceremony on
the 18th green at Harbour Town, Love was getting ready for
dinner, at home. For Love the week had not been a success. The
truth is, the week of the MCI Classic, to varying degrees, was a
disappointment for everyone in the field except Day, and even he
said there were a couple of shots in the final round--a chip and
a putt in his lone bogey--he wishes he could have had over. But
that's golf.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JIM GUNDCOLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Masters plan Love (here playing the 12th at Augusta National) traced his Masters demise to a third-round tee shot on 15.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JIM GUND Make my Day Six years in the making, Day's victory came in style on a 30-foot birdie putt in the playoff.
"Augusta puts you on edge," Love says. "There are so many
rules there. Hilton Head is like the anti-Augusta."
"Professional golf is tremendous highs and tremendous lows,"
Day said. "There's got to be a way to make a living with a lot
less stress."