RENO – Davis Love III likes playing in altitude, and he likes playing golf in the Modified Stableford scoring system. It makes him a natural to play in the Reno-Tahoe Open.
Love, a 20-time winner on the PGA Tour and the 1997 PGA Championship winner, is probably the most well-known name in this year’s RTO, which gets under way today at Montreux Golf & Country Club.
It will be Love’s first time at the RTO, but he feels like he already knows a lot about the course, the area and the event itself because of word of mouth and the fact he served on the player council of the PGA when the format was switched.
“My first reaction was that I want to play,” Love said. “I’m a four-time PGA board member, so I hear a lot about tournaments. This one has always been a big topic of discussion because they’ve always worked hard to stay on the schedule. They have bounced around a little bit and worked hard to get sponsors, so we had them on the radar a lot.
“I’d heard a lot of great things about the golf course. I mean, everybody compares it to Castle Pines (site of the International) because of the altitude and similar terrain. But guys come back with great reviews. They enjoy the tournament. I’ve been excited over the last few months to hear everybody talk about it once I said I was coming and figuring out where to stay and what to do. I think I saw Ben Crane posted a picture of him and his kids out on the golf course and you could see how pretty it was.”
Scott McCarron, the RTO tournament host, said he approached Love last year. Love had the weekend off last year because he didn’t qualify for the Bridgestone event.
“Davis and I talked about it last year,” McCarron said. “He ended up taking a vacation. He loved playing the International.”
Love won the International in 1990 and 2003, the latter by a whopping 12 points. In 16 International events, he had seven top-25s, four top-10s and the two victories. No doubt a chance to play in another Stableford event was a key in his decision to come to Nevada.
“Yeah, I’m excited to be here,” Love said. “I’ve never played in this area, so it’s going to be a fun week. Obviously you would rather be at Akron, but I’m excited to try Stableford again.
“I’ve been playing better and better, hitting it more solid. I’m excited to get another start and try something new.”
Love has made just 12 starts this season after missing three months following neck surgery Feb. 8 to help relieve numbness and weakness caused by spinal stenosis and joint bone spurs in the neck. He withdrew from both the Phoenix Open and AT&T Pebble Beach National because of the injury.
“Well, I told my therapist I’ve never been 100 percent, so let’s not make that the goal,” Love said when asked if he was 100 percent. “Let’s make it 80 or 90 percent. I think I’m at that. I’m about 80-90 percent. I still need to get stronger.
“I had about two years where I was not feeling great, and then a surgery and then coming back from that. My doctor said nine months to two years to get back to where I want to be. It took Peyton Manning basically a whole season to where he looked like Peyton Manning again. I’m starting to see signs, and I’m starting to hit the ball like I want to hit it. I’ve had some really good ball-striking rounds, so I’m excited about that. Putting doesn’t matter how strong you are. So that’s been up and down.”
Most players talk about aggressiveness being rewarded in the Stableford system, and Love agrees with that theory to a degree.
“You know, you accumulate points for the week, so just making birdies and pars like every other week works,” Love said. “I think in some situations you’re going to be more aggressive, maybe shooting at pins from the fairways and things like that, because a bogey is not going to kill you. Obviously, six birdies and six bogeys is better than 12 pars.
“So I’m looking at it a little bit that way. I think when you get in trouble, though, you play it safe a little bit more; you don’t go for it quite as much. You want to make sure you got a putt for par and it’s not a putt for bogey. You don’t want to make (other double bogeys). I think that’s really the only strategy difference. Birdies and eagles are important, and you can survive a bogey here and there.”
Love, who coached the Ryder Cup team in 2012, will assist Fred Couples in the upcoming President’s Cup in October. He’s looking forward to the experience this coming fall.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun with Freddy this year,” Love said. ‘I get right back in with basically a very similar group of guys (that I had with the Ryder Cup). We might have two or three different. It will be fun for me to get back in there with them again.
“We free-wheel it at the President’s Cup for Freddy. I’m looking forward to watching that.”
As much as Love liked coaching the Ryder Cup, he would like nothing more than to make the Ryder Cup in 2014, when Tom Watson is the coach.
“I wouldn’t want to do it right away (coach Ryder Cup again),” Love said. “I told (Tom) Watson I would do anything he wanted me to do, but I was going to try to play as hard as I could to try to make the team. I’d love to say that I played on both of his teams.
“My first Ryder Cup was ’93, and he (Watson) was an incredibly great captain. There are so many guys that look up to him. Like Brandt Snedeker. Brandt and I are going to be grinding hard. We want to be on Watson’s team. If I don’t make the team again I would be disappointed, but I would love to captain it again. It was a lot of fun.”
Keegan Bradley, who played for Love this past year, told golf analyst David Feherty that he “tears up” every time he sees Love. The U.S. lost 14.5-13.5 in 2012.
“My No. 1 sports psychology or mantra the whole week was it was their team and they should play for themselves,” Love said. “I did the same thing for Tom Watson and Tom Kite and Lanny Wadkins. I know that Justin Leonard and I completely got in our own way at Valderrama because we were trying so hard to win for Tom Kite. We didn’t get any points, and we cost him winning his Ryder Cup.
“Then knowing that I had some guys on my team, like a Keegan or Brandt Snedeker, guys that I had watched come up, that they were going to try too hard for themselves, for their teammates, for their country, and for their captain. I didn’t want their captain to be a factor in it. It’s hard not to. I think it affected them a little bit, but that’s why the Ryder Cup is so hard. If you’re a hockey player or football player, I mean, those guys are living and dying for Nick Saban in Alabama. They want to play for him. They want him to win. They want to dump the Gatorade on him.”