Davis Love III Clinched the Last U.S. Ryder Cup Win in Europe 30 Years Ago — How Does It Happen Again?
By Adam Stanley
Davis Love III after winning the 1993 Ryder Cup for the U.S.(Getty Images)
When Davis Love III made his first U.S. Ryder Cup Team in 1993, he was so excited. Agonizingly close to making it in 1991, he had to instead watched the competition – with many of his friends on the U.S. Team – on TV.
Tom Watson, an eight-time major winner, was the captain the year Love did indeed make it. And the whole squad left the Eastern Seaboard en route to England on the Concorde.
“As a kid you never really dream about stuff like that. You have putts to win the PGA Championship,” says Love. “But you don’t really think about going with Tom Watson on a (chartered supersonic airliner) overseas to play for the United States.
“I was in awe a little bit.”
Love eventually went on to earn the cup-winning point for the American side. He defeated Italian golf legend Costantino Rocca 1-up in their Sunday singles match-up at The Belfry in England, allowing the U.S. to regain the Ryder Cup for a second consecutive time after the Americans' 1991 triumph at Kiawah Island.
Alas, that was the last time the Americans won the Ryder Cup on European soil.
'It's amazing how long ago it was'
It’s now the 30th anniversary of the triumph at The Belfry, and Love – who captained a winning Ryder Cup squad himself in 2016 at Hazeltine – will be one of Zach Johnson’s Vice Captains as the 12 men aim to try to break the three-decade drought.
“It’s amazing. We talked about the Concorde. The Concorde is retired. It was ‘the future of air travel’ when we went to The Belfry and now they’ve retired the airplane,” says Love, with a laugh. “Guys who were on that team have retired from golf. It’s just amazing how long ago it was that we won (in Europe).”
Since the 1993 U.S. victory, there has been six Ryder Cup contests in Europe, the most recent being at Le Golf National in France. Europe defeated the U.S., 17.5-10.5. The closest the American team has got to winning in Europe came in 1997 (Spain) and 2010 (Wales) when it was defeated by just a single point. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there was the nine-point drubbing at The K Club in Ireland in 2006 and the seven-point defeat in France five years ago.
Love has been a stalwart in Ryder Cup team rooms since his debut 30 years ago, missing just two since then between being a player, captain or vice captain. In early September he was part of a scouting trip to Marco Simone Golf & Country Club with most of the squad, including current Captain Zach Johnson.
He recalls watching Brooks Koepka, the 2023 PGA Champion, hit it off the first tee in Rome with no one really seeing much of the golf course by that point. Koepka was a rookie in 2016 and is now playing his fourth Ryder Cup.
“I thought, ‘If he swings as hard as he swung on the first day of the 2016 Ryder Cup, he's going to his this right up on the green,' " remembers Love. “You can see the excitement of thinking of hitting in front of all those people.”
Three decades ago, Love was the young star himself. He and Lee Janzen were the only two golfers under the age of 30 on the team. Tom Kite was his partner and, despite Kite being a top-ranked golfer at the time, and Love the long-bombing birdie machine, they drew perhaps the best team in Ryder Cup history – for all three matches: Seve Ballesteros and Jose Olazabal.
The Americans went 1-2.
With a laugh, Love recalls walking to the first tee on Friday and hearing the European crowd chanting and he pulled on Kite’s sweater. They had decided Love would hit first on the odd-numbered holes, but on that loud, intimidating walk, Love realized that the first hole, was, well, one of those odd numbers.
“He started laughing and said, ‘Don’t worry. You’ll be OK,” Love recalls with a smile.
“To be able to stand up there on a Friday morning in front of a crowd and hit a shot in the first session of a Ryder Cup . . . it’s an incredible feeling.”
Davis Love III
Love and Kite would go on to win that opening match, and, of course, Love eventually won the cup-clinching point. There were plenty of other fun takeaways from that week 30 years ago, Love says, from team-room bonding and board games and veteran-player meetings (a practice that turned into the squads introducing vice captains) and laughs that lasted well into the night.
“All those little things add up to being part of the team,” Love says.
Onto Marco Simone
Fast forward 30 years and some things have stayed the same, but a lot has changed. Despite a few disappointing stretches for the U.S., it comes to Rome after a dominating 10-point victory at Whistling Straits in 2021. But this year’s matches are back in Europe, and since Love’s clinching point three decades ago, there still hasn’t been an American win on foreign soil.
“It’s hard to believe,” Love says. “It’s mind-boggling. We… sit on the stage of the Opening Ceremony and you think, ‘Golly. We’re a highly favored team here.’ And somehow we don’t win.