Captain's Blog: Learning to coach
Leading up to the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah Country Club, U.S. Ryder Cup Captain Davis Love III will periodically check in with PGA.com to talk about the various things going on in his life on the course, off the course and in his Ryder Cup preparations. This is the sixth installment of Love's, 'Captain's Blog,' as told to PGA.com's T.J. Auclair.
By Davis Love III
U.S. Ryder Cup Captain
It's been about a month since the last time I checked in. I have to say, I was really excited about the start of the year in Hawaii, but I think I may have been a little ambitious and jumped back into things too soon.
My neck got really stiff and was bothering me early on when I missed a couple of cuts. I took a little time off. The neck has calmed down and I played real well on the final nine holes at Pebble Beach. I made a bunch of putts, shot a 30 on the back nine and ended up in a tie for 20th.
That was encouraging and really has me excited about the tournaments I have coming up in Florida. Now I have three chances to win and get into the Masters.
We're seven weeks into the new season now and so far there have been seven different U.S.-born winners. That's awesome.
As we get closer to the Ryder Cup -- and it's still a ways away -- I'm asked by friends, at every dinner, by players: What's going on with the Ryder Cup? How much work is it? I had been trying to figure that all out myself, and I think I've finally realized this: I'm looking at everything a little differently.
When I watched Tiger and Phil playing in front of me at Pebble that last day, Phil winning, or Phil, Billy Haas and Keegan Bradley making great putts at Riviera, I'm not watching as a fan anymore.
I'm watching and thinking, "Wow, they made great putts under pressure!" Everything I do now is like a coach. When I look in a guy's bag, for instance, he and his caddy might think I'm looking to see what club he hit. But, I'm actually looking to see if I like their bags, the straps on the bags, or headcovers. Maybe they have a cool looking yardage book that's really thin. I'm paying attention to details. All of them.
Friends are pushing me about how I'm going to do things, my theme, how will this team be different from others, etc. I think I've finally realized it. I want guys to relax and play like they do on that last hole at Riviera, or how Phil did on that last day at Pebble. How do you get them to do that? How do I coach these guys? How do you take the pressure off?
Well, I think I finally found out how.
My 18-year-old son, Dru, is playing basketball this year. He's the tallest kid in school, so it made sense. He has a great coach and I've been watching this guy. I've been thinking: do I call friends of mine that are coaches? Guys like Roy Williams? How do I coach these guys? So, I've been watching this high school coach. He won state last year, and they're in the Final Four this week, which is unbelievable because this is a small school. He yells, pushes and motivates at practices. They're learning plays, getting it done.
Then in the regular season games, he yells a little. In crunch time he gets quiet, supportive, tells jokes, they relax and play. He pushes them so hard at practice, but at the end of practice there's a game. He gets them prepared for the game and then it becomes fun.
He calls a timeout in a close state playoff game with 50 seconds to go and the team walks away laughing because he told them a crazy joke. All the parents are stressed and wondering, "What the heck did he say to them?" He's being Bob Rotella. Be tough, understand the plays, but when it comes time to play, have fun and relax.
I've watched this coach go from the guy pushing in practice to game time when he's supportive and fun and telling jokes to keep the kids loose. I'm trying to figure that out. That's what Freddie has done with the Presidents Cup. I can really learn from this guy coaching the high school team. I don't get that close to Roy Williams at UNC games, but I am able to get that close to this high school coach. I love his style.
Last season I watched him win. He recognizes the details.
Last year, I didn't care what bag Steve Stricker had, or the yardage book cover Freddie gave him for the Presidents Cup. But, everything I do now is trying to get myself and the team prepared so they're ready for Medinah. I really enjoy that.
I struggle with wondering how I'll be different from Corey Pavin or Tom Lehman as a captain. What can I do? I can't do anything to get the players ready. I mean, I can help if they haven't played the course, and say, "Hey, Keegan, let's go play Medinah," but other than that I can't say, "What I see in your swing is..."
I have to make sure it's the best week of their lives. That's been my one thing I've worried about. Am I really ready to be the guy with the radio? Freddie did it just as Freddie at the Presidents Cup. They had fun, talked basketball, told jokes and they were relaxed. He didn't try to be something different; something he isn't. These guys know what they're doing. We just need to let them get that out.
Watching that high school coach tell jokes with 50 seconds left helped me. Phil had fun on those last 18 holes at Pebble and that last green at Riviera with Keegan Bradley. They were having fun. That has to be the mindset. That's how my year's going so far. I'm trying to figure out what this year will be like. I'm learning. I've gotten to play with so many guys already this year, it's been really good. It's so nice to be with them full time on the PGA Tour.
Like I said, I played behind Tiger and Phil for nine holes that last day at Pebble Beach. Phil played fantastic, but lately I'm seeing so many positive signs with Tiger. He's really focused, has Joe LaCava on the bag, he's playing week in and week out. He's not waiting for a few big tournaments. He's ready to go. This is a big year for Tiger and Phil. Keegan Bradley too. It was awesome to see Keegan in the mix with Phil at Riviera. It was big for Billy Haas to start the year like this after winning the FedExCup last year.
The best thing I've seen out of Tiger and Phil this year is that they were hitting balls out of the same pile at Pebble, righty and lefty, so they could talk to each other - I'm sure they were different balls, but you get the point. My son does the same thing with his lefty friend. They hit from the same pile so they can talk.
Most people think Tiger and Phil don't talk, but that's a big driving range at Pebble Beach and they were hitting out of the same pile. They could have hit elsewhere. It's a bitter rivalry whether it's playing at Pebble Beach, in Match Play, or in Ping Pong. They don't want to lose. But man was it was nice to see them hitting out of the same pile. They were walking and talking with each other in the fairways. Phil had it that day and Tiger didn't.
I have to say, I'm pulling for Tiger even more now because of Joe LaCava. There's kind of a rule on the range that the players say hello to players before caddies, but Joe is one of those exceptions -- Joe, Fluff, Bones, Hunter Mahan's caddie, Johnny Wood. I find myself pulling for a lot of my friends because I'm friends with their caddies too. I don't want to just see Jim Furyk on TV. I want to see Jim and Fluff. I want to see Phil and Bones. Now it's the same with Tiger and Joe. They're friends of mine. Joe is going to be so good for Tiger on and off the course. Joe is one of the best out there.
There's another guy I haven't mentioned yet, who I should. I think he may have been a little forgotten considering how exciting the last couple of weeks have been on Tour. That guy is Kyle Stanley. I'm super impressed by the way he bounced back at Phoenix after what happened to him at Torrey Pines. I talked to Kyle at Phoenix with another friend and I just told him, "I've finished second 30 times in my career. If you keep putting yourself there, eventually you're going to win."
I didn't realize it was only going to take Kyle five days to do that, but it was impressive and I was proud of him. He's such a good player. They can't stop him from winning. He knows that. We need to keep that momentum going. I'm not tracking guys' world ranking, I'm tracking how well they're playing. The point's standings are so volatile right now. I can't pay attention to that yet. I just want to see guys making big putts like Kyle, Billy Haas, Phil and Brandt Snedeker have this year. That's what I want to see.
Lastly, I think Jose Maria and I have finally decided on how many assistant captains we're each going to have... but we're not going to announce it officially until March or April. That's good for me. I know I've got two people in mind for sure and then I'll have more time to figure out the rest.
That's all I've got for now. I'm looking forward to playing in Florida.