Pro golfer Davis Love III was born into the sport. His Carolina ties, deep experience and selfless attitude make him a natural fit to lead the 2022 U.S. Presidents Cup team.
by Jim Moriarty | photograph courtesy Ben Jared/PGA TOUR
Davis Love III, the captain of the 2022 U.S. Presidents Cup team, was a Charlottean just long enough to polish off a bottle of baby formula and work up a good burp. But given his far deeper North Carolina roots, surely he deserves the honorific of hometown boy anyway.
Love was born in Charlotte in 1964, the same year his father, Davis Love Jr., became the first golf professional at the newly founded Atlanta Country Club in Georgia. Love Jr., who would become one of America’s most respected teaching professionals before his death in a plane crash in 1988, was at the time of his eldest son’s birth serving as the head professional at Charlotte Country Club, a position he held for roughly four years. During his time there, several club members who were also members of First Baptist Church conspired to introduce the young professional to the church’s secretary, Penta Burgin, who grew up in the small Gaston County community of Alexis, one of 13 children. It really was a match made in heaven.
At a recent outing, Scott Davenport, who worked with Davis Jr. in the Golf Digest Schools and has served as the head golf professional at Quail Hollow Club for 22 years, was asked to introduce Davis III.
“Like he needed an introduction,” says Davenport of Love, who was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2017. “Davis’ dad was the most economical person I ever met, with his golf, with his time, with his money. The guy was unbelievably focused. He didn’t waste anything,” Davenport explained to the gathering.
Love Jr. went a long way on a scrappy, if not particularly powerful, golf game, playing in two Masters and tying for sixth in The Open Championship in ’69. Penta, on the other hand, never played golf until she met her golf professional husband. When she took up the game, however, she made an impression. She would begin shooting her age when she was 73. “She was just an absolute bomber on the golf course relative to her size,” Davenport says. “You can’t believe how far she could hit it, and she was a great competitor. So, I told them, if you want to have a superstar golfer son, find the right person to marry.”
Davis III’s North Carolina credentials cut a swath right through Chapel Hill, where he was a three-time All-American who has, in the past, been somewhat mischaracterized as the person who taught Michael Jordan — now a known golf fanatic — how to play.
“Michael and Buzz Peterson were in the same class,” Love explains. “I met Buzz in class or something, and we started playing golf. Michael came with Buzz, drove the cart and kept score. You had to tell him, ‘No, I went in the water. That’s two, I’m out in three. I didn’t make four, I made a five.’ And we’re gambling. So, we’re teaching Michael to keep score and to keep the bets. So, he literally knew how to gamble at golf before he knew how to play golf.”
Love’s Carolina blue blood runs deep. “I was just a kid playing golf. All of a sudden I know Coach Dean Smith, therefore I know Roy Williams, therefore I know [sports psychologist] Dick Coop,” he says. “Dean Smith wrote me a note every time my name was in the paper, back when that was a thing. I had a book just full of notes that he wrote me.”
Sadly, those notes from Smith were among the things Love lost in a catastrophic fire that engulfed his home on St. Simons Island, Ga., a little over two years ago. Also lost in the fire were boxes and boxes of yellow legal pads that comprised a lifetime of notes and musings of his father’s.
“He had an old roll-top desk. He sat back in his office, and every day he wrote down notes for that day. Some of it was for books and articles. Some of it was just for doodling and golf course drawings. Whenever I got a lesson, he wrote it all down for me, and he wrote it all down for himself.”
Fortunately, not everything was lost. Some of his most prized possessions were at the Hall of Fame at the time of the fire. “I was very fortunate that I’m lazy,” Love says. “At the World Golf Hall of Fame they have a year when they take as much stuff as they can haul of your memorabilia and make a big display, then they shrink it down after a year or two. They put the rest in storage.” Love procrastinated in retrieving his belongings. “So, luckily, all that stuff was in storage. Oh, my gosh — Arnold Palmer letters. President [George H.W.] Bush letters. Some of those yellow legal pads.” Oddly enough, since the Hall of Fame is now set to return to Pinehurst in 2024, the rest of the stuff Davis has on display there will be back in North Carolina, too.
That Love was picked to be the U.S. captain was a surprise only to him. He got the news from Tiger Woods who, as the general public is just beginning to realize, has embraced his role as an elder statesman of the game — especially its team competitions, the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup — with the same kind of vigor he applied to his own game.
“I’m driving to my house and Tiger texts me,” Love recalls. “I reply that I’m free tomorrow, I’ll give him a call. He goes, no, now. So, I call him. You know how he is, no fluff. He said, ‘Congratulations, you’re Presidents Cup captain.’ I said, ‘What?’ He said, ‘Yeah. You’re Presidents Cup captain in Charlotte.’ I said, ‘On who’s authority?’ And he goes, ‘Well, you can call Jay [Monahan, PGA Tour commissioner] if you want, but you’re Presidents Cup captain.’”
So, of course, Love called Monahan anyway, who had to whisper into his phone because he was at Augusta National Golf Club, where such conversations are frowned upon.
“I don’t care what you do with the PGA of America,” Love says Monahan quietly told him, referring to Love’s two Ryder Cup captaincies and the PGA Championship he won under a rainbow in 1997. “You were instrumental in the beginning of the Presidents Cup. You’ve played six of them. You’re going to be Presidents Cup captain, and Charlotte is where you should do it. Plus, your guys all agreed that you should do it.” By “guys” he meant Woods, Zach Johnson, Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk and so on — the full range of former and future captains and assistants.
In addition to his six Presidents Cup appearances, including the inaugural in 1994, Love has played on six Ryder Cup teams and was the captain twice. As a player, he posted the first point in the Sunday singles in what was, at the time, the largest come-from-behind victory in Ryder Cup history in 1999 at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass. In 2012, he was the U.S. captain when the Europeans turned the tables on the Americans at Medinah Country Club outside Chicago, also coming from four points behind on Sunday to take the cup that was already in their possession back to Europe. Every American felt the sting of the defeat on their own soil. Four years later, Love captained the victorious U.S. side at Hazeltine Country Club outside Minneapolis. “I’m extremely proud of this team,” Love said afterward. “They put their heart and soul into this win. They keep thanking me and congratulating me, but I congratulate them.”
Golf can be cruel. There were members of the team at Hazeltine who felt they let Love down at Medinah. “You didn’t let me down,” he told them. “I let you down. I understand the role. The team wins, the captain loses.”
Zach Johnson, a two-time major winner, was a player on both of Love’s Ryder Cup teams, is an assistant captain on this year’s Presidents Cup side and is next year’s U.S. Ryder Cup captain. Perhaps only Love’s wife, Robin, has had a better look inside the role Love has played in those events. “DL3 is a natural leader,” Johnson says. “He approaches his captaincies, from my vantage point, just like he approaches life, very selfless. He has the respect of all his peers, those that serve with him, and those that play for him.”
The U.S. side won’t lack for backing in Charlotte. In ticketing and hospitality dollars, it’s the biggest Presidents Cup ever. More hospitality space has been built for the event than even for the PGA Tour’s flagship tournament, The Players Championship in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. “It’s going to be as big as Whistling Straits,” says Love, referring to last year’s Ryder Cup in Wisconsin. “It’s going to be out of control. The first tee horseshoe is just as big, and we’ve never had that at the Presidents Cup. It’s going to be awesome.” SP
Read more Presidents Cup coverage, including what to expect at Quail Hollow.
The Queen City will take an international stage when The Presidents Cup comes to Quail Hollow Club Sept. 20-25. The match-play competition pits a team of U.S. players against a team of players from the rest of the world, excluding Europe. Charlotte native Davis Love III is the 2022 U.S. Team Captain. South African pro golfer Trevor Immelman is the International Team Captain.
The first Presidents Cup was held at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Prince William County, Va. The PGA Tour event is held biennially, and the location alternates between the U.S. and the countries represented on the International Team.
Number of the country’s top men’s golf programs at Historically Black Colleges and Universities scheduled to compete Aug. 29 in the Charlie Sifford Centennial Cup, an exhibition match under Presidents Cup format and routing at host Quail Hollow Club.
Local food vendors featured at the course, including Ace No. 3, Inizio Pizza, Viva Chicken, What the Fries and Sabor Latin Street Grill.
Square footage of the on-site Fan Shop, the largest merchandise tent ever built by the PGA Tour.
Height, in feet, of the uptown mural depicting the two captains, painted in late 2021 by local artists Sydney Duarte and Treazy Treaz.
Dollars earned by golfers competing in the Presidents Cup. Instead of winning prize money or a purse, each competitor designates charities or golf-related projects of his choice to receive a portion of the funds raised through the Presidents Cup. Local nonprofit partners include: First Tee of Greater Charlotte, Augustine Literacy Project, Atrium Health Foundation, Charlotte Family Housing, NXT/CLT, Renaissance West Community Initiative and Lorien Academy of the Arts.