Love displays captain's confidence

BETHESDA, Md. -- For most of his 27 years on the PGA Tour, 48-year-old Davis Love III has, despite his 20 wins, been able to lead a pretty low-key existence. But as the captain of the U.S. Ryder Cup team that will face the Europeans at Medinah, his profile has risen to new heights.

Come September, the Georgia native will be something like a general leading his troops into battle against a European contingent that has won six of the last eight cups.

It's a different pressure from the kind Love faced when he won his only major in the 1997 PGA Championship at Winged Foot or in his six Ryder Cups as a player, where he had a 9-12-5 record. Though he won't hit a shot all week, the fate of the U.S. team could rest on his decisions.

On Wednesday at the AT&T National, Love named Fred Couples and Mike Hulbert as assistant captains. Later this summer, Love will add two more assistants to complete his staff, but with Hulbert and Couples, he has two of his closest friends on tour.

While little known outside of golf circles, the 54-year-old Hulbert -- a three-time PGA Tour winner -- is one of the most likeable guys in the tight-knit world of the tour. Shortly after Love was appointed as captain in January 2011, Curtis Strange, the 2002 U.S. Ryder Cup captain, called to tell him that Hulbert had been the best assistant captain in the history of the matches.

"Those two were my natural choices," Love said. "My next two are going to be harder. In Freddie, I've got somebody that's in contact with a lot of the players that have played on the team. But he's not out here every week, and Hub knows a lot of guys out here and a lot of guys know him."

Love said he would like to fill those final two spots with guys are who are still playing the regular tour.

"That's what Fred and Mike and I are doing right now is trying to figure out who's the best fit for the next two," Love said. "Hub calls me every other day, and we can't get ahold of Fred, so it kind of balances out."

Couples, who would be a popular pick some day as a Ryder Cup captain, is hardly a surprise pick. Since first leading the Presidents Cup team at the 2009 matches, the 52-year-old 15-time Tour winner has become the darling of match play captains. Super cool and cocky but never intimidating, Couples was recently selected to lead his third straight Presidents Cup team.

"Well, we know Fred's passion for team events," Love said. "You know, playing matches with him, playing World Cups with him was pretty amazing. People see Freddie, he makes it look so easy, and he's got this nice swing, and he's always smiling and waving.

"But what's going on in his head, I think, [is] completely different. He really has a lot of pride in his game."

As a Ryder Cup team member, Love struggled with the pressure of the matches. He wanted it too bad. So as captain, he will drive his players to stay relaxed and have fun.

"I didn't do a very good job," Love said. "I want them to go relax and have fun and enjoy it because I know that there [were] teams that I missed because I tried too hard, and there's teams that I played on that I didn't play well because I tried too hard, and I don't want them doing that."

While it might not be a natural instinct for Love to keep his team calm and relaxed, Couples has proven to be an expert at keeping players focused but not overburdened by the grandeur and patriotism of match play events.

More importantly, Love's decision to pick a larger-than-life personality like Couples demonstrates a strong desire to run the team almost by committee as opposed to employing an imperious model that would leave the assistants as little more than glorified yes men.

Over the years, the Ryder Cup captains have assumed a lofty place in the matches, not just as leaders but also as the veritable faces of the proceedings.

Who can forget the late Seve Ballesteros racing his golf cart around Valderrama in 1997 or Hal Sutton forcing a Tiger Woods-Phil Mickelson partnership at Oakland Hills in 2004 to show the world that the rivals could play together?

Love will convene his leadership and make the best decisions with a unified front.

"Not trying to do this by committee, but I keep saying I need people around me to give me advice, and then I have to make a decision," Love said. "It's going to be the U.S. team and not going to be necessarily my team. I'm going to try to get everybody together on the same page, on the same team.

"I'm just going to be the guy that makes sure we have a bus to get them to the first tee on time."