PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Davis Love III didn’t see this second chance coming, either.
Back at the very first meeting of the new PGA of America Ryder Cup task force, with Love plugged in via conference call, his name was scribbled on a board among potential captains to be considered.
Sitting on his porch back home in St. Simons Island, phone pressed to his ear, Love couldn’t see his name going up, but he heard quickly enough that it was, and ...
“I was amazed,” Love said. “If I was there, I probably would have turned around and walked out.
“I didn’t go in asking, wanting or expecting to be named.”
And if you think the PGA of America handpicked Love, that it forced “their guy” down the task force’s throat, you would be wrong. After that first meeting, Love said Steve Stricker summed up the startling realization that hit former and current Ryder Cup players on the task force. It was a revelation that empowered them with the belief they could make real, meaningful change.
“Steve said, `They’re actually going to let us pick the captain,’” Love said.
That simple revelation, Love said, made all the difference in the world.
After that, there was a no-holds-barred autopsy of what was wrong with the American effort. The post-mortems went beyond the captaincy of Tom Watson, who alienated the American team with his heavy-handed tactics in Scotland last year. The examination probed lots of mistakes Americans made losing eight of the last 10 Ryder Cups.
“Some things said were harsh,” Love said.
What could the Americans learn in all that losing? That really became a focus for the task force.
As captain of the 2012 American team, Love is part of the losing legacy. While he put his players in position to win at Medinah, helping them build a 10-4 lead late on Saturday, he was witness to their total collapse as victims of Europe’s historic Sunday singles comeback.
Love says he learned a lot in that loss.
Now, he gets to put those lessons to work.
When the dust settled on the task force’s meetings, that’s ultimately what they wanted, somebody who could put together all the hard lessons learned in losing, somebody who could unite Americans doing so.
Love was named captain because he was deemed to be best equipped to execute the grand design the American Ryder Cup task force will put in place. He was deemed to be most suited to incorporate, integrate, coordinate and delegate.
In the end, the task force didn’t want a great musician trying to come up with a winning tune.
The 11-member group wanted a great American conductor, a Leonard Bernstein, to pull together gifted instruments and orchestrate a winning tune.
They saw those skills in Love.
“We wanted somebody with some past experience to work off of, rather than somebody starting from scratch,” Mickelson said. “We wanted somebody well-liked and respected, who does not have such a strong ego to where he won’t listen to a number of different viewpoints ...
“When you look at how unselfish Davis is, how much he is willing to take hits, but give other people credit. When you look at laying out a blueprint for the next 20 years, at building the foundation for future Ryder Cups, and continuity from year to year, and passing on that knowledge and sharing that knowledge ... If those are all the things you want, there is only one guy who fits that bill.”
Love got teary eyed when asked in Tuesday’s news conference what getting a second chance meant to him.
“I’m here with the same goals as 2012, but as a different captain,” he said. “I’ve got a lot more people behind me. I’ve got a lot of people in my corner.”
Love’s emotions came out when he talked about calling Lanny Wadkins, who was on the losing side as American captain in ’95. Love wants to know what lessons Wadkins learned in his loss.
“Lanny said today, `You made my day calling me,’” Love said. “That says it all about the Ryder Cup. We have to get all these guys involved, have a family that’s all pulling in the same direction.”
What lessons have the task force learned?
There will be more continuity from one captain to another in the future. There will be four vice captains on this next team. Two will be former captains, two will be potential future captains.
Tom Lehman, who presided over a losing American team in ’06, was the first vice captain named. The next three will be named at later dates.
There’s also a new qualifying system for players to earn their way on to the team. The top eight players after the Barclays will earn a spot on the U.S. team. Previously qualifying ended after the PGA Championship.
There will be four captain’s picks instead of three, and they’ll be chosen a week later. Love will pick three players after the third playoff event, the BMW, and then he will make his final pick after the Tour Championship. That way, a hot player like Billy Horschel, last year’s FedEx Cup winner, can still be a captain’s pick.
The task force will live on, too, as a smaller PGA Ryder Cup committee. That group will carry on the work of the task force, tweaking changes as needed. Love, Mickelson and Tiger Woods have already been named to the committee.
Mickelson said repeat captains could become a common occurrence.
Love connects all the dots now. As a former captain, now the current captain, as a task force member whose work will continue on the new Ryder Cup committee, Love will come to define this new American Ryder Cup template.
“Ultimately, the goal is to put players in a position to succeed as opposed to creating obstacles for them to overcome,” Mickelson said. “Davis was a perfect fit for all we wanted.”