Why did Davis Love win at Hilton Head? Because he was barely
This is an article from the April 28, 2003 issue
Forget the yips, divorce lawyers and bad backs--the most
destructive force on the PGA Tour is expectations. Stewart Cink
is a former rookie of the year and a two-time winner who went 4-0
in his first Presidents Cup, yet he recently called himself one
of the Tour's biggest underachievers. Cink has begun working with
a psychologist to free his mind and unlock his potential. He led
last week's Heritage through 54 holes, but on Sunday he was
squeezing the club so tight it looked as if it might snap. He
shot a 73 to fade to 10th.
Cink's demise opened the door for Ernie Els, once pegged as the
next Nicklaus--at least until Tiger Woods came along. Cink's goal
is to achieve Els's success, but after opening the season with
four wins worldwide, Els saw his own rising expectations
squashed. During the final round at Bay Hill, Els shot a 77 and
was blown away by Woods, his would-be rival. In his next
competitive round, at the Masters three weeks later, Els rang up
a 79. He is still No. 2 in the World Ranking, but by the time he
arrived at Harbour Town Golf Links, on Hilton Head Island, S.C.,
he seemed somehow diminished.
On Sunday, Els shot a front-nine 30 to surge into the lead, but
down the stretch he came undone again. He fanned his drive O.B.
on the short, par-4 16th hole, beginning a closing kick in which
he finished double bogey, bogey, bogey, setting the stage for
Woody Austin and Davis Love III.
Austin is the intense Kansan who grinded his way to the 1995
rookie of the year award, at age 31. He is self-taught and
displays none of Love's natural ease. Austin put increasing
pressure on himself to follow up his surprising rookie year, with
calamitous results. By '97 he was 180th on the money list, and he
has been squeaking out a living ever since. "The last six years
have been golfing purgatory for me," he said last week. "If I'm
not playing to my potential, then to me I'm wasting my time."
Potential--specifically of the unrealized variety--has long been
Love's bugaboo, too. With rousing victories at Pebble Beach and
the Players Championship, he was suddenly a favorite at the
Masters, but he dashed expectations with an opening 77. Hilton
Head is where golfers go to sleep off a Masters hangover, and in
this relaxed setting Love had strolled to four previous
victories. It's where he plays his most carefree golf.
On Sunday, Austin's mechanical swing was in perfect tune, and
Love was a stroke back playing the famous 18th. Wide right of the
green with his approach, he willed a 66-foot chip-and-run into
the cup, one of the boldest strokes of his career. Boats tooted
their pleasure in Calibogue Sound, but the inelegant playoff that
followed quieted the crowd. Austin was playing not to lose, Love
trying too hard to force a victory, not surprising given his 1-7
playoff record. On the third extra hole Austin had a three-footer
for par and the win. In advance of the putt he closed his eyes
for an eternity to meditate, but the fates did not smile on him.
"It would've meant the world," a crushed Austin later said.
Love prevailed on the next hole, the 18th, precisely because he
did not get caught up in that kind of thinking. Afterward he
reveled not so much in the victory but in the smaller triumph of
having perfectly executed a six-iron from 166 yards, clanging it
off the flagstick to four feet for the deciding birdie. "I said
to myself, I'm going to hit it at the hole and quit screwing
around," Love said, "and I finally hit a good one."
This week's Legends of Golf is the best tournament of the year on
the Champions tour. It celebrates what senior golf is supposed to
be about--good fun, decent competition and the game's history.
THE NEW MATH
Hal Sutton's first top 10 in two years
RYDER CUP CAPTAINCY + SLEEP APNEA + MIDDLE AGE - FIRE = [Hal
A Blast from Phil's Past
Last Friday, in the parking lot of San Diego's Torrey Pines Golf
Course, Scott Peterson was arrested for the alleged murder of his
pregnant wife, Laci. It was an incongruous setting for an arrest
but hardly Peterson's only connection to the game. Peterson, who
was on his way to join his father, Lee, for a round at Torrey,
played for the University of San Diego High team from 1987
through '90 and as a freshman was a teammate of Phil Mickelson's,
who was a senior. After twice earning MVP honors at University
High, Peterson followed Mickelson to Arizona State on a partial
golf scholarship but left school after six months. Mickelson is
known for his total recall of everything from NFL rosters to
astrophysics, but he "could not remember Peterson," according to
The San Diego Union-Tribune.
Tiger Woods took care of some unfinished business at the Masters
champions dinner. "I was the first person he came over to," says
Byron Nelson, "and he told me how much he enjoyed my tournament
and how sorry he was to miss it this year. I told him I was sorry
as well but looked forward to him returning next year when he
didn't have a conflict." Woods is jilting the Byron Nelson
Championship in favor of the Euro tour's Deutsche Bank-SAP Open,
at which he will get a multimillion-dollar appearance fee to
defend his title.
Steve Haskins is the Crash Davis of minor league golf: Last week
at the Nationwide tour's First Tee Arkansas Classic he extended
to 311 his record for starts on the PGA Tour's developmental
circuit. "How can I quit when I'm so close to breaking through?"
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