Davis Love III vividly remembers the tests.
His late father, Davis Love Jr., designed them to quiz the members of his junior golf program on rules and etiquette while serving as the head pro at Atlanta Country Club and Sea Island Golf Club.
Playing privileges were at stake. First three holes, then moving up to nine, then getting turned loose on the course alone. Names were posted on tiny brass plaques on a little wooden board as youngsters climbed the ranks, which Love compared to earning badges in Boy Scouts.
“It wasn’t how far you could hit it or a putting contest,” Love said during a telephone interview earlier this month.
If that were the case, Love probably wouldn’t remember. Because for Love, it wasn’t enough just to pass those tests.
“I was the pro’s son, I was not a member. I had to do it better than everybody else, is what he told me,” Love said. “?‘You have to act and carry yourself better than everybody else. Stay out of everybody’s way and be a gentleman.’
“At a young age he instilled that in me and he demanded it. ‘You go play with your mom, you go play with a member, you go play with other kids, you don’t throw clubs, you follow the rules and respect the rules.’ He always said, ‘It’s a gentleman’s game — it doesn’t matter if it’s a man or a woman playing it.’?”
Love will be thinking of his father at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, when Northern Ohio Golf Charities will honor Love III as the 2016 Ambassador of Golf in a ceremony on the first tee at Firestone Country Club. PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem will introduce Love.
The award, given on the eve of the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational, is presented annually to a person who has fostered the ideals of the game on an international level and whose concern for others extends beyond the golf course.
Love, 52, a 21-time tour winner, captains the 2016 U.S. Ryder Cup team for the second consecutive competition. He also works as a golf course architect and authored the book Every Shot I Take, a tribute to his father’s lessons on life and golf that won the 1997 USGA International Book Award. Love Jr., 53, died in a plane crash in 1988 en route to a meeting of Golf Digest Schools’ instruction staff.
Love said he still sees himself “as a kid playing golf.” But he knows the value this honor would hold for his father.
“I never really saw myself as an ambassador or a Payne Stewart Award winner or a Bobby Jones Award winner. But I’ve said over the last few years my dad would have been as proud or more proud of those awards or being named Ryder Cup captain than me winning golf tournaments because that’s what he stood for,” Love said.
The trip to Akron won’t be just a one-day visit. By virtue of his victory in the 2015 Wyndham Championship, Love qualified for the $9.5 million, no-cut tournament for the first time since 2009.
“I’m going to Firestone not to have one more go-round at it just to say goodbye — I want to see if I can compete,” Love said. “It’s a good golf course and I’m excited to get back there to play it.”
Love finished tied for sixth or better five times in a span of six years that Firestone hosted the event from 2001-07. (In 2002 it was held at Sahalee Country Club in Washington state.) He tied for second in 1991, when it was called the NEC World Series of Golf.
If Love thinks back to the memorable moments of his career on Wednesday, he will remember his victory in the 1997 PGA Championship at Winged Foot.
As Love was walking up the 18th fairway, a rainbow came out and CBS announcer Jim Nantz connected it to Love’s father’s passing. A rainbow was also spotted after Love’s victory in the 1992 Players Championship.
“For Jim Nantz to be the announcer on 18 green and to see the rainbow and to talk about my father almost 10 years after he passed away, it brought the story back out of how lucky I was, how lucky our family was,” Love said of the PGA. “Every time that gets brought up about the rainbow, you get another chance to tell the story. That was my dad looking over me.
“A couple Players Championships and a couple other tournaments, I seemed to always play well when the weather was bad, then the sun would always come out.”
Love said he and his brother Mark were watching Love’s son Dru, a member of the University of Alabama golf team, hit balls the other day and something their father said was mentioned. Mark is Davis’ part-time caddie and partner in their course design business, Love Golf Design.
“We can’t play without it,” Love said of his father’s name coming up.
While serving as Ryder Cup captain and picking up awards might be enough for some, Love hasn’t lost his desire to tee it up against the game’s young guns.
Experiencing back and neck problems later in his career, he’s learned he can’t play four tournaments in a row. He’s been forced to adjust his swing, realizing he’s no longer going to bomb it past his competitors.
But his victory last year at age 51 made Love the third-oldest winner in tour history and only the third to triumph on tour in four different decades, joining Sam Snead and Raymond Floyd. Playing in 732 PGA Tour events since turning pro in 1985, Love still has goals, like reaching 800 tournaments and 22 victories.
“My dad also said, ‘Let’s not put limits or goals or restrictions on what you’re going to do, let’s just work hard and see how good you can get,’?” Love said. “My body now is wearing down, but I’m still trying to get better and still trying to play and compete with the young guys. It keeps me going to realize that I haven’t accomplished everything. … There are still some things I can do.
“When I got to 19 and 20 [victories], it would have been easy to say, ‘I’m beat up and done, it’s time to pack it in.’ I love competing and I don’t want to give it up. Four years ago I couldn’t see the end. Now I can see where the end is. But I still feel like I’ve got enough experience and enough will that I can hang in there a little bit longer with ’em.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read her blog at www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.