The light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter and brighter for 2016 Ryder Cup USA Captain Davis Love III.
Appointed to his second crack at captaincy on Feb. 24, 2015, Love is now under three weeks away from learning who his eight automatic players will be when points officially close at the conclusion of the Barclays, scheduled for Sunday, August 28.
Just one month after that, the Ryder Cup will tee off at Hazeltine National in Chaska, Minn., as the U.S tries to win the biennial matches for the first time since 2008 and just the third time since 1999.
While the picture may be getting clearer, there's still a lot going on between now and then. We caught up with Love for a Q&A to talk about what's been going on lately -- Jimmy Walker's PGA Championship win; Jim Furyk's 58 -- as well as how it feels to have the matches right around the corner.
PGA.com: You were at Baltusrol early during PGA Championship week, but did not play (recovering from hip surgery) for the first time since 1988. What was that like?
Love: It was very strange. I flew in, got a brand new Mercedes courtesy car with the PGA Championship logos on the doors. I drove over to Baltusrol and had a parking space with my name on it as a past champion. I went through the locker room and into the Champions locker room. I saw a locker there with my name on it. Up to that point, everything seemed completely normal. Then, I opened the locker. Titleist didn't put any golf balls in there for me. That's when reality hit that I wasn't playing and -- for the first time since the surgery -- I got depressed a little bit about missing the PGA, missing a chance to defend at Wyndham and then not playing in the playoffs. That stung.
On a personal, selfish note, it wasn't a great trip because I wasn't playing. But, in terms of Ryder Cup business, it was a fantastic trip. I was able to spend some time with Jimmy Walker and Brooks Koepka before the tournament started, along with some other guys we were hoping would move along and they all played well. I met with Phil Mickelson. It was a very productive trip.
PGA.com: Any update on your hip?
Love: I'm on track to be playing practice rounds by mid-September out at Hazeltine to see what Kerry Haigh and his team has been doing with the course. I'm a week or two ahead on protocol and I've started putting and going through some swinging motions. I'm ahead of schedule on that. The five weeks since the surgery has flown by and I could not be happier with the progress.
Related: Get an exclusive look at the American Ryder Cup uniforms below:
PGA.com: You mentioned Jimmy Walker. That was an impressive wire-to-wire win, wasn't it?
Love: Jimmy played great and I'm so happy for him. He showed signs the week before. There was talk about how he hadn't been playing great this year, but he was showing signs. He just had to free it up, have some fun and let the putter do its thing. When Jimmy's putter is on he gets confident and goes on a hot streak. The ball striking gets better when his putter is on -- it's such a confidence boost when the ball is dropping in the hole and it feeds into the rest of your game. Winning, going through a long Sunday like that was tough, but I'm thrilled for him. I wasn't surprised though. He's been due for a good week. It'll be fun to watch him in the playoffs and in the Ryder Cup because when he's on a roll he usually stays on it.
I was also excited for Brooks Koepka. He's been battling an injury, took some time off and knew he really needed to play well and went out and did that. It's good to see him and guys like Daniel Berger playing well and keeping me guessing.
PGA.com: Part-time golfer Steve Stricker -- your friend and an assistant captain -- has not missed a cut in any major he's played since the 2009 PGA Championship. What gives? How does he do it?
Love: Every time he plays, he plays well. Especially the bigger the tournaments. He's spending time with family, running his own tournament on the PGA Tour Champions and just marching to the beat of his own drum. He's comfortable with what he's doing and making his own schedule. I'm sure the commissioner isn't real happy with the number of starts Steve makes, or lack thereof, but when he does play, he plays great. He's doing it on his own terms and he's successful doing it. He's going to be in the playoffs and have a chance to make the Ryder Cup team all on a limited schedule.
PGA.com: Another one of your assistant's -- Jim Furyk -- fired an incredible, PGA Tour-best, 12-under 58 in Connecticut on Sunday. That was something else.
Love: I talked to Jim today. I asked him, "What are you up to?"
He said, "Heading out to practice."
I said, "What exactly do you practice when your last round was almost perfect?"
He told me he's practiced every day this week since the 58.
What's so impressive to me about Jim is that at the Travelers, he pretty much had nothing to play for on Sunday. He shot a 1-over 72 on Saturday and was pretty much out of contention. But, after that round, he went out to the range that afternoon and worked his tail off to get better.
Even at his age, having played all the golf he has through the years, he still knows there's room to improve. The guy just never, ever gives up and that's the reason for the consistency and the longevity he's had in his career.
He's near 100 in FedExCup points (102nd, officially) having played a limited schedule with the wrist injury -- just two starts in the first four full months of the year -- and will be in the playoffs. That's why you have to factor him in when you start talking Captain's Picks. The same goes for the likes of Stricker, Koepka and Berger. They have all missed time for various reasons, but have played great golf when they've teed it up. That gives us a lot to look at. What could they have done -- points-wise -- if they played more and if last year's fall events counted toward the point total?
PGA.com: Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson, Matt Kuchar and Patrick Reed are all in Rio for the Olympics. They're all on the bubble for the Ryder Cup with Reed being the only player in that group currently in the top 8. Are you paying close attention to what's going on down there even though there are no Ryder Cup points available?
Love: I think anytime these guys are teeing it up, you've got to pay attention. The Travelers was great golf from potential Ryder Cup guys, but they didn't necessarily move around in the standings a whole lot. What I'm saying -- and have been saying for months -- is we're looking at how they're playing... not just at points.
The guys you mentioned in the Olympics -- they've gone a long way down there. They're enjoying it. I get it now. When you listen to them talk about what they're all doing down there outside of golf and the experiences they're having -- that's why it's worth going. Bubba even said that it was almost as if the golf is getting in the way of the fun.
Are there points? No. But they're taking away something that's so much more valuable than points and that's playing for their country. That's going to prove to be a valuable experience whether they're in the top-8 for Ryder Cup or on the team as a Captain's Pick. They're going to inspire with the stories of their experiences. Shoot, I can't wait for them to get back here so I can hear all about it. It's pretty cool. I get it more now. A lot of us have said -- and maybe I've been more vocal than most about it -- let us see it [golf in the Olympics] and then tell you what we think. Right now, I'm thinking it's pretty cool. Along with the golf, I've been watching swimming, archery and trap, It's incredible to watch.
PGA.com: In a little over two weeks, you will have your eight automatics when points close at the conclusion of the Barclays on August 28. The next day you'll do the media rounds in New York City. How exciting is all that going to be?
Love: It's going to be great. Obviously we know 4-5 of them now, but it'll be nice to firm up the last few. Sunday -- the 28th -- will be a big day. That's when it really hits home that we need to start making the picks. All of us captains and assistants have talked, but we can't narrow it down too much until then. We'll have a couple of weeks to decide what to do. We have a short list, but things can change. We have three weeks, really before we get them. That day -- the 28th -- is a big day.
It's always exciting to go to New York City with the Ryder Cup trophy. It's going to be a milestone day for rounding out the team.