Davis Love became eligible for the Champions Tour in April of last year, but unlike most other PGA Tour members who have turned 50, he has resisted the transition to senior golf.
Love competed in only two Champions Tour events in 2014, both after he completed play on the PGA Tour for the season, and just two more this year. He was prepared to make at least one more start on the over-50 tour this year, but a surprising outcome forced Love to change his immediate plans.
After three unproductive years on the PGA Tour, Love was nearing the point of having to reconsider his decision to continue competing against players half his age. But an outstanding round of golf in one of his favorite events on tour changed all that.
With his recent victory in the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, N.C., Love is again a relevant player on the PGA Tour at the age of 51. He became the third oldest player to win a tournament in tour history, and his come-from-behind triumph included a host of perks that will keep Love fully occupied until his role as U.S. Ryder Cup captain for 2016 begins to consume most of his time at some point next year.
Love was scheduled to play in a Champions Tour event the week after his appearance in Greensboro, but his victory qualified him for the FedExCup Playoffs for the first time since 2012. He jumped from 186 to 76 on the points list, and was guaranteed at least two starts in the Playoffs, three if could move up just six spots on the list prior to the BMW Championship.
The victory also gets Love back into the Tournament of Champions in Hawaii for the first time since 2010 and earns him invitations to two tournaments he has dearly missed the last few years – the Masters and Players Championship. He last played in the Players, an event he has won twice, in 2013, and his most recent trip to Augusta was 2011.
“It kills me the last couple of years not to play in the Players Championship,” Love said after his victory. “My friends at home assume I’m in the Players because I won it twice. That one and the Masters are kind of crushing that you don’t get in there.”
The way Love had been playing the past few years, there was little to suggest from his record that he still had the game to compete close to the level that made him one of the game’s top players for more than two decades.
A variety of physical ailments have made the last few years particularly difficult ones for Love, who has undergone neck and foot surgeries that took him off the course for lengthy stretches. He was out for 2 ½ months this year after foot surgery, with the rehab process taking a little longer than he anticipated.
“The neck surgery went pretty smoothly. This one (foot surgery) went smoothly, but the rehab didn’t come around as fast as I wanted. You just wonder, is the body going to wear out?
“I’m very fortunate I bounced back from this. I really felt great this week. My foot is probably going to hurt the rest of my life, but it’s not going to stop me from playing. It’s getting better and better.”
Ordinarily, Love’s first victory since late 2008 would have been the dominant story line for the tournament, but it was overshadowed by the return of Tiger-mania. Tiger Woods played Greensboro for the first time in his career, and was among the tournament leaders for 54 holes before falling from contention the final day, making a late rally to tie for 10th after a mid-round collapse.
Love’s victory at the age of 51 took second billing to Woods’ rare weekend appearance on the leader board, with his sizzling surge on the front nine not drawing that much broadcast attention until it had concluded.
After opening with scores of 64 and 66, Love was only one shot off Woods’ lead after 36 holes, but fell four back after a third round 69, one-under on the par 70 layout at Sedgefield CC. His final round did not start especially well, as he missed the fairway off the first tee and made bogey.
Love responded with birdie putts of 14, 6 and 15 feet on the next three holes, and after smashing a 345-yard drive on the par-5 fifth, hit his second shot from 188 yards within five feet for an eagle. He closed out a 5-hole stretch of 6-under par with a 10-footer for birdie at the sixth, but his momentum stalled when he three-putted the seventh from long range for bogey.
A par at the eighth was his first of the day, and was followed by six more pars in succession. Love sat on 15-under during that stretch, just behind leaders Jason Gore and Augusta native Scott Brown.
It only took Love one hole to grab control of the tournament. After a 318-yard drive on the par-5 15th, he ripped a long iron from 211 yards to within 12 feet of the pin. He holed his eagle putt to take the lead, and after back-to-back bogeys on the back nine by Brown, Love had the outright lead for the rest of the day, finishing one ahead of Gore and two in front of Brown.
There was a great amount of attention heaped on Woods and his effort to get into the Playoffs with a win at Greensboro, with Love coming into the tournament with no eyes on him, even though he was one spot in front of Woods in the standings.
“I had really not been playing for points or for position,” Love said. “I’ve been trying to get my game back through a couple of setbacks.”
The victory was the 21st for Love in his PGA Tour career, with 14 of his titles coming in events he has won multiple times, and 13 of the 21 in his native South.
Love was born in Charlotte and spent much of his youth in Atlanta while his father was head pro at Atlanta Country Club. He then moved to St. Simons Island with his father and returned to St. Simons after attending college at North Carolina.
Among his victories are five at Hilton Head, one of the tournaments he was forced to miss this spring, three at Greensboro and two each in the Players, at Pebble Beach and the International, which was last played in 2006. His other Southern victories came in New Orleans and tournaments at Callaway Gardens and Disney that no longer exist.
The biggest win of Love’s career was the 1997 PGA Championship at Winged Foot in suburban New York, and he came tantalizingly close to victory in each of the other three majors, twice finishing outright second in the Masters.
Love will celebrate his 52nd birthday next April, a few days after the Masters ends and a day before the tournament in Hilton Head Island begins. The celebration will begin at least a week before his birthday and continue for several days after.