By T.J. Auclair, PGA.com Interactive Producer
JOHNS CREEK, Ga. -- Davis Love III is making his 25th consecutive start in the PGA Championship this week at Atlanta Athletic Club.
The PGA Championship is the only major Love counts among his 34 professional victories, and that came in 1997 at Winged Foot.
But based on the way the 2012 U.S. Ryder Cup captain has played lately, there’s a good chance he could contend yet again, even at the age of 47.
Love tied for 11th at the U.S. Open in June and tied for ninth in last month’s Open Championship. Right now, he’s feeling awfully good about his game.
“I had a couple good majors, and I hit the ball real well, really since Memorial,” he said. “So, I’m excited about the way I'm playing, excited about this course. It's definitely long and hard, so that is a course that would suit my game. I'm excited about this week and looking forward to it.”
As Ryder Cup captain and based on his results this season, Love wasn’t going to be able to come in to Atlanta under the radar anyway. But add those two things to the fact that he’ll be paired with Tiger Woods and Padraig Harrington in the first two rounds and there’s no doubt he’s going to have a lot of attention on him.
That’s OK, though. Love likes it that way.
“I'd rather play with [Tiger] than in the group ahead of him or behind him, because you're better off in the bubble than just on the outside edge of it,” Love said. “It's going to be good. I had a little talk with him in the locker room yesterday, because I had not seen him. Obviously the conversation immediately turns to the Ryder Cup, like most of my friends now, that you haven't seen in a while.”
Ah, the Ryder Cup. It won’t take place until September of 2012 at Medinah Country Club in Chicago, but it’s sure been keeping Love quite busy this year. That’s something he didn’t anticipate.
“It's just constant, but it's fun stuff,” he said. “It's exciting to say, all right, what color is the bag going to be, and then what color are the head covers going to be, and well, the rain suits better match the bag. It's fun. A lot goes into it. It's a lot bigger tournament than I ever thought it was. There's a lot that goes into it.”
During non-Ryder Cup years, points for U.S. players can only be accumulated at major championships. Based on his results in the U.S. Open and the Open Championship, Love currently occupies the No. 8 spot, one slot ahead of Woods and the last automatic-berth spot available when points close after the 2012 PGA Championship.
“I think we should cut it off after this week, especially if I play good,” Love joked.
Since being named Ryder Cup captain on a frigid, snow-covered day last January, Love has made it clear that he would be delighted to qualify for his own team. While there’s still a long way to go, so far so good.
That’s surprised some, who wonder why Love wouldn’t just coast, seeing as he’s the captain. Love, however, is surprised that anyone would think that.
"I don't coast," he said. “I'm trying to make Freddie's team [Fred Couples’ 2011 Presidents Cup team], I'm trying to win the PGA and I'll be trying to win in Greensboro next week. When I decide it's time to coast, I should probably quit.”
And as far as making his own Ryder Cup team? Well, that’s an itch Love’s going to work hard to scratch. Up until missing out on the 2006 Ryder Cup, Love had played on 12 consecutive U.S. teams -- six apiece between the Ryder and President Cups. Ever since, he’s been frustrated.
“I want to make another team,” he said. “I want to make another Ryder Cup team. And if it's not this one, I'm going to try just as hard for the next one. You know, I'm hitting the ball well enough to play on the team. I've just got a short game, just like everybody else there's a lot of guys that can say that. I'm playing really good, I just need to make a couple more putts.”
Regarding his streak of 25 consecutive starts in the year’s final major, Love joked that it just means he’s old. It also means he’s been quite good.
“I'm hanging in there,” Love said. “So maybe some of the records I can beat of Tiger's are just playing more tournaments than him and last a little bit longer. I've been blessed. I've had a couple injuries and a couple nagging things, but I haven't really ever been completely shut down and haven't ever missed a whole year or had a huge problem that I didn't get over relatively quickly. So it's amazing to think I get to come back to Atlanta Athletic Club.”
When the PGA Championship was last contested at Atlanta Athletic Club in 2001, Love was alone in sixth place through 54 holes. He struggled mightily in the final round, however, shooting a disappointing 7-over 77 to finish in a tie for 37th.
That experience won’t mean anything for Love this week – this course is almost unrecognizable, he explained, compared to the one he played in 2001.
“David Toms last night at the Past Champions Dinner got up and spoke, and said, ‘This really isn't the same golf course I played in 2001. It's a lot longer, it's a lot different. It's on the same piece of property and the holes go the same direction, but a lot of them are longer, harder, different grass.’ So it's going to be a completely different championship for guys like us, who you would think have a little bit of an advantage. I've always liked big, solid golf courses like this. A lot like Congressional was for me [in the U.S. Open]; it was a really good fit for my ball striking.”