Davis Love III ready to lead Team USA

MEDINAH, Ill. -- After the first round of this year's PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, S.C., Davis Love III hosted a dinner at a local hotel for the top 20 players on the U.S. Ryder Cup points list.

Captain Love had forewarned the players that it was to be a casual affair with no speeches or agenda, and that there was no pressure on them to come. Love came in late after shooting an even-par 72 that Thursday afternoon on the Ocean Course.

Everyone was sitting around looking at each other, when Phil Mickelson says, "Davis, you need to say something."

"I don't have anything to say," Love said.

"No, Davis, you have to say something," Mickelson said. "We're sitting here waiting for you to say something."

So finally the 6-foot-3 Love rose from his seat.

"Phil and Amy [Mickelson] said that I have to say something," the U.S. Ryder Cup captain said.

Love went on to tell the players that he wanted them to go relax and play golf and try not to put pressure on themselves.

It was the stump speech that Love had memorized and would say as long as he was the Ryder Cup captain. But Mickelson had given him an early and very valuable lesson on leadership and the responsibilities of the Ryder Cup captain.

"That really woke me up that we're getting close and now you have to be more [of] a leader," Love later said. "It's time to, as our friend Lance Barrow said, 'to put on the big-boy clothes and take charge.'"

Love is not a natural leader. Some Ryder Cup captains have had that "take-charge" ability in their DNA. Seve Ballesteros and Ben Crenshaw had it. But as the son of a famous swing instructor, the late Davis Love Jr., Love is more of an observer than a brigade commander, a careful aggregator of opinions, philosophies and maxims that were passed down to him from his father and every important figure that he has ever come into contact with in his 48 years in the world of golf.

The 1997 PGA Champion has some of that gentle earnestness that Crenshaw exhibits -- when you talk to him, you feel like you're hearing the wisdom literature of the game.

From his father, who got it from Harvey Penick, Love will tell his players this week to "take dead aim." When Love was a boy, his father would leave pearls of wisdom for him and his younger brother, Mark, on the bathroom vanity on a yellow legal pad. The elder Love would remind his boys to follow their dreams and enjoy the trip.

After one of his 20 PGA Tour wins, Love's wife, Robin, asked her husband why whenever he won, he only talked about how much fun he had.

"When I had fun and relaxed, I played well," Love said. "We have to realize that this is not life and death. It's not who we are as people. It's a game and we need to go and have fun. Have a goal, but go and have fun while you're doing it."

More than anything, this is the philosophy and state of mind that he wants to impart to his U.S. Ryder Cup team at Medinah. He wants his 12 players to do what he couldn't do as a player in six Ryder Cups.

"What I did is what I don't want them to do," said Love, who had a 9-12-5 record in 26 career matches. "I tried too hard for my captain. I tried too hard to win and put too much pressure on myself. The most relaxed days of my Ryder Cup career were '99 on Sunday when Crenshaw got us all fired up."

Love was an assistant captain to Corey Pavin at the 2010 Ryder Cup matches at Celtic Manor in Wales. That was the first time that he had fully seen the matches from the perspective of the captain. He gained valuable insight on how to deal with the very delicate sensibilities and personalities of the best players in the world from a totally new vantage point. He could stand outside of himself and see all the things that had made it so difficult for him to be coached by past captains.

"Some guys you have to encourage and some guys you have to challenge," Love said. "Sometimes you have to ask guys if things are going great, do you want me to keep people away from you and what to do when you're playing bad.

"At Celtic Manor, there was a player that said the only guy I want to talk to is Corey."

At Medinah, Love will get a lot of input from his assistant captains, Fred Couples and Mike Hulbert, but he knows that he has to be the final decider.

"One thing I've learned from talking to people about how to coach is that you're prepared for everything that happens," Love said. "Nothing surprises the best coaches. There can't be any kind of on the fly what I'm going to do."

Great coaches must also learn how to handle their superstars. No star on the American team is bigger than Tiger Woods. Love has been on four teams with the 14-time major champion, and has watched him mature into a better team player over the years.

"I'm going to know from the beginning where Tiger wants me," Love said. "He might say don't come anywhere near me. He could say keep all these other guys away from me and y'all go do your other thing over here.

"Tiger has learned through the years that he needs to win points, but he also has learned how to be a leader. And he knows it's not necessarily always on the golf course."

Earlier this month, on the Monday night before announcing his four captain's picks in New York City, Love was finally hit with the magnitude of his job as the U.S. Ryder Cup captain. Alone in his hotel room he tried to make sense of his good fortune. He couldn't believe that he was about to make such an impactful decision on the careers of four young men. He was the Ryder Cup captain and in charge.

"I keep saying that I'm honored by it, but I'm also very humbled to be in this position," Love said. "But it's giving back to the captains and the people in my career that made me a part of the Ryder Cup.

"I think winning the Payne Stewart award in 2008 and getting named the Ryder Cup captain are things that my dad would have been proud of rather than just playing golf."

Come Friday morning, all those lessons that Love learned from Penick, his father and past Ryder Cup captains as well as fellow tour players will be put to the test. And he'll have to be a leader and make speeches. But he won't need prompting from Mickelson, because Love has lived his whole life in golf to speak to this occasion.