Davis Love III’s passion for the game can help USA negotiate the strenuous challenges ahead
It was before another golfing event in Chicago that Davis Love III's agent, Mac Barnhardt, described his man as “one tough dude”.
That was the 2003 US Open and Love needed all his resilience, having only a few days earlier discovered the body of close friend, trusted employee and brother-in-law Jeff Knight, who had killed himself after being discovered to have embezzled almost $1m from Love to pay off credit card debts.
Nor was this the first family tragedy Love had suffered.
In 1988, his father, the celebrated golf teacher Davis Love Jnr, died in a plane crash. So whatever unfolds at Medinah this week, the American captain knows better than most that it will not be a matter of life and death.
Indeed, he has told Sky Sports, in an exclusive interview to be aired on Thursday, that he doesn't want his team to work too hard to reclaim the Ryder Cup.
“The one thing I don't want is for them to try as hard for me as I tried for Tom Kite or Lanny Wadkins,” he said. Kite's captaincy in 1997, and that of Wadkins in 1995, both ended in failure.
Whatever he says about not trying too hard, however, Love visibly yearns to match the achievement of Paul Azinger in 2008. The Europeans arrived with the trophy four years ago, but did not leave with it and Love's challenge is to ensure that recent history repeats itself.
He is a much less spiky character than the combative Azinger, but behind the gentlemanly demeanour and proper Southern manners, the man from Sea Island, Georgia, is a ferocious competitor. No fewer than 20 wins on the PGA Tour — as many as Greg Norman, more than Kite and Ben Crenshaw — testify to that.
Moreover, in the foursomes on the first morning of his Ryder Cup debut in 1993, at The Belfry, he and Kite beat the totemic pairing of Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal.
Now, at 48, he is caught in that strange golfing twilight — a bit of a codger by PGA Tour standards, but not quite old enough for the Seniors Tour.
Yet Love's competitive fires still burn intensely. And if he can't meet challenges on the golf course the way he used to, he finds them off the course. “I love to fish, I love to hunt, just about anything outdoors I like doing,” he said.
“I love to snowboard, that's probably my number one passion, and that's pushed us into surfing. Anything that my mom would disagree with, I like doing ... anything that is maybe a little bit dangerous! I think what you find with a lot of athletes is that they enjoy their competition so much, they enjoy that adrenalin rush, [and] it is hard to go home and simulate that. I know I shouldn't be riding a motorcycle and it's dangerous and maybe that's why I like to do it. Because it's a challenge.”
It's easy enough to understand why his mother might disapprove of him endangering himself. Her husband, Davis Love Jnr, was just 53 when he perished in that 1988 crash.
“It has certainly changed my life on and off the golf course,” recalled Love of the accident, in which his best friend, a father of three young children, also died.
“It really changed a lot of lives in our little town. But I think it made me stronger. It made me more determined. I still hear [my father's] golf lessons in my head. I would love for him to be giving my son lessons and I would love for him to see the Ryder Cup.
“My father had a passion for the history and traditions of the game. He felt that golf taught you a lot, not only about sports but life — playing by the rules, honouring your competitors and taking your hat off at the end of your round. I am proud I have helped continue this little tradition.”
He should be and yet of course the Ryder Cup has not always offered much of an example to those who insist that the game of golf fosters decency, integrity and respect for the opposition. Nor is Chicago necessarily the place for such virtues to be asserted. But where there's Love, there's hope.