CHASKA, Minn. -- During a hectic couple of days in Minneapolis for the 2016 Ryder Cup Year-To-Go Celebration, we were able to track down U.S. Captain Davis Love III for some Q&A.
Love – U.S. Captain for the second time in three Ryder Cups – believes he is as prepared as ever for what lies ahead. Since 2010, he’s has been behind the scenes as a captain or assistant captain in two Ryder Cups and two Presidents Cups.
In just a couple of days, Love travels to Korea to assist Jay Haas with the U.S. Presidents Cup team. It’s yet another opportunity to bond with players and see how personalities mesh.
Love covered all that and more from a bench in the men’s locker room at Hazeltine National.
PGA.com: How exciting is it to be here at Hazeltine with the realization that the 2016 Ryder Cup is now only one year away?
Love: It’s fun to get things going. Once you hit this Year-To-Go, it all becomes a bit more real. I’ve spent two full days with Darren [Clarke] talking about the behind-the-scenes stuff and the reality of both of us preparing our teams and making some bigger decisions other than just clothes and bags and things like that.
It’s nice to be in the town where you’re going to play. The fans, the club, the volunteers – they’re all excited and ready to go. It is a year away – a long way off – but December 4 when we had our first Ryder Cup meeting to talk about this, it’s flown by. It’s literally almost a year ago that we started talking about the last Ryder Cup and what are we going to do going forward. We’ve been at it a while, but the time has flown by and I’m sure the next year will fly by as well.
PGA.com: How much more prepared are you now in your second go around as Captain?
Love: I think Corey Pavin set me up for it and prepared me a little bit when I was a Vice Captain for him in 2010 at Celtic Manor. And, of course, I learned a lot more as Captain at Medinah. In the last two days, I’ve probably told Darren 10 things where he’s said, ‘really?’
It’s probably not all that different from when someone is elected president and then they sit you down and say, “OK, here’s what’s really going on behind the scenes.” And then you go, “Oh my gosh. I didn’t know all these secrets.” It’s just a massive event. From 1991, talking to Dave Stockton and trying to make his team, to playing in 1993 to now, it’s just incredible how much bigger this event is.
It was even like that talking to Tom Watson. He was like, “really?” getting ready for 2014. A lot has changed since he was captain in 1993. It’s even bigger now than it was in 2012 already. There are just so many things that have evolved.
I’m sure Darren is overwhelmed. You know, I’ve seen the movie before and I know how it turns out. That’s going to help me a lot. It’s also going to help all my assistant captains because we’ll all have had a lot of Ryder Cup experience and we’ll know what to do. Now we just need to fine tune out the game plan and run it. We know what we need to get done we just have to do it now.
PGA.com: You’re one of the most well respected men in the game. You’ve always had that. But what did it mean to you, at 51 years old, to beat the young guys a few weeks back at the Wyndham Championship?
Love: I’m lucky. I’m blessed that I can still play out there on the PGA Tour. I remember Lanny Wadkins telling me, “you’re not going to realize what 20 wins means to you.” Now I’m tied with Lanny at 21 wins. To be able to be out there playing with the younger guys is great. I can play alongside Bubba Watson and Bill Haas in the middle of the summer and watch them play and get to know them better.
Now that I’ve won, not only do I get to play with them in regular tournaments, but I also get to play with them in the Masters, in the World Golf Championships in Akron just a few weeks before we play the Ryder Cup. It’s going to be great.
From the Ryder Cup standpoint, it’s awesome. But from where I’ve come the last few years, having so much on my plate with captaincies and assistant captaincies and have injuries and keep telling people, “I’m actually playing better than you think. If I putt well, I can still win.”
People get tired of hearing that. Like Tiger always saying, “I’m close.” Well, I’m like Tiger. We believe we can still do it. It was nice to prove at Wyndham that there’s a reason I’m still out there playing and hanging around. I’ve always said, “If I didn’t think I could do it, I wouldn’t be out here.” If I were just out here seeing if I could make cuts, I wouldn’t be playing. It was nice for me, personally, and for everyone on my team from Randy Myers and my golf teachers and my doctors and therapists. We all put a lot of work into this.
You know, Jordan Spieth keeps saying “we.” I think that’s what our whole team needs to realize. I have a whole team of people – “we” did it. We came back and won a golf tournament after a lot of tough years. That’s what this Ryder Cup team needs to say – we can do this together. Individually, we can all play great golf, but unless we get some “we” over the next year… that’s what we need – to come together and be a team.
PGA.com: How encouraging is it as the Captain to see 20-somethings like Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler emerging as leaders?
Love: Rickie had a good start then a flat period and now he’s playing great again. But even in between those times, he was a leader. He respected by his peers. He didn’t get selected to be a Ryder Cup Taskforce member because of his playing record or how many times he’d played in the Ryder Cup. He wasn’t considered the next Ryder Cup Captain. He’s on that Taskforce because he’s a respected guy. He’s very mature beyond his years and had a lot to add.
Jordan Spieth is the same way. Jordan Spieth might be 22, but he’s a grown man. He’s experienced. He’s wise beyond his years. He’s polished and professional. He and Rickie can be the team leaders on the course and off the course like Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods. Guys can look up to them and rely on them to 1. Say and do the right thing; and 2. Play really good golf. That’s what you’re looking for.
I think Tiger and I both came into the Ryder Cup thinking, “OK, we’ve got to win five points. That’s how we’re going to help the team.” Then we learned after playing for a while, “No, no. You have to win points, but you also have to help this team with how you lead.”
Payne Stewart taught me that. I’m sure Phil Mickelson taught Tiger that – we’re the top players on the team, so we need to be the leaders as well.
I think Rickie and Jordan – even Webb Simpson and Zach Johnson – they sense that they’ve got to do more than just show up and play.
I’ve said it before our Ryder Cup system isn’t broken. We have great players and great leadership. We just have to tweak a few things. I think we’ve learned that because we’ve all sat down over the last year and finally talked about it.
We finally had a past Captains meeting last week where we said instead of, “OK, we’re going to take a picture now, we’re going to have dinner and then we’re going to give you a gift and now you’re off and we’ll see you in five years,” it was, “All right. Here’s what we’ve been doing for the last 6-8 months. Here’s what we’re going to do going forward. What do you guys think?” That’s when Tom Lehman [assistant captain] and I backed up and said, “OK, tell us what you think.”
Just the openness and the fresh take that Derek Sprague and Pete Bevacqua have now – they’ve got a football team that’s had a losing record. They had to fire the coaches and start over again. We all feel that fresh attitude and we’re excited about it.
PGA.com: You’re headed to Korea shortly as an assistant captain for Jay Haas and the U.S. Presidents Cup team. How beneficial is it to you to be up close and personal with a lot of those guys who will likely be on your Ryder Cup team one year from now?
Love: Just to get one more chance to watch Jay Haas and Fred Couples make the pairings is huge. Jay and I, for the last month, had been talking about who he’s going to pick, how he’s going to put his groups together, who’s going to play together, how will this work, etc. Jay and Fred have had an incredible amount of success over the last three Presidents Cups of matching guys up, making pairings. We used a lot of what they were doing at Medinah. Freddie obviously clued me in on how to make the pairings and how to make the picks. It’s great for me and I get to go on a trip with them.
How many Ryder Cup captains get to go the year before and two years before to a Presidents Cup? I might have 6-8 guys on this Ryder Cup team that I’ve been on two or three trips with – not as a player – but behind the scenes as a captain. I think it’s great for me.
Darren and I were sitting around in 2010 at Wales and Darren’s going, “Don’t take it [the captaincy for 2012], don’t take it. Don’t take ’12. Wait for me.”
I told him, “I’ve got to take it when I can get it.”
Well, we both got our wish. But, look at all the experience I’ve gotten since 2010. I’ve done two Presidents Cups and two Ryder Cups. I’m feeling pretty good about it. I know the playbook now.
We’re going to get a lot of questions about how we’re doing all this new stuff. What was the problem? Well, there wasn’t a huge problem there was just a one-point problem. It’s always close. We just want to figure out a way to be more prepared as a team, which means the captains need to be more prepared. We need to have a better game plan for the whole week, for the whole year. That’s Tom and my commitment. We said once we get through the Presidents Cup, we’re going to start our messaging. We’ll start our plan. Part of it is learning the golf course. Part of it is starting with whoever is going to qualify first.
The first guy to make the team will probably be Jordan Spieth. After we get done with the Presidents Cup, he’s going to be my target. I’m going to make sure I’ve got him on board first. If Jordan Spieth comes here in June and plays a practice round, it’s going to set a tone. Davis, Tom, Jordan and Dustin were out at Hazeltine. Well, what’s the next guy going to do? I better get my butt up there, too.
We don’t have to be here 10 days each. All it takes is for Jordan to see it, understand it and start thinking about it. He has a plan for the year and Dustin Johnson has a plan for the year. Zach Johnson has a detailed plan for next year. I just want them to include this in their planning for the year and treat it the way they treat the majors.
Instead of thinking about making the team, I want them thinking about how we’re going to win when we start the year.
We’re getting ahead of it a little bit more this year than we have in the past. I’ve always been one to wait until the last minute and it will all work itself out. Well, we can’t do that anymore. We can’t just show up Monday and Tuesday night, all get buddy-buddy and then go win. We need to be ready before.
I think the opportunity has been given to us by the PGA of America to do whatever it takes to get ready this time.