published Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

Wiedmer: Love challenges golfers in NCAA event to listen

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Davis Love III

Everybody thinks Davis Love III taught Michael Jordan to play golf during the two years their careers crossed paths at the University of North Carolina in the early 1980s.

And Love quickly admits that he and Buzz Peterson, Jordan's roommate and Love's buddy, "got Michael started."

But it seems that Jordan had perhaps a far greater impact on Love when His Airness left the Tar Heels basketball program after his junior year to join the NBA.

"I looked around and all our best basketball players were always turning pro early, so I thought I should turn pro, too," said Love, who was in town Monday night to speak to all the collegians competing in this week's NCAA Men's Golf Championship at The Honors Course.

Twenty PGA wins and 30 runner-up finishes later, the 46-year-old Love says of that decision: "It worked out for me. But when I'm telling my 16-year-old that he needs to study harder for his (high school) exams and he says to me, 'Why? You never finished college,' that hurts. I still intend to go back and finish once my children are out of school."

An assistant captain to captain Corey Pavin on this year's Ryder Cup team, Love had a lot to talk about with his captivated audience once his briefly grounded plane finally arrived from Sea Island, Ga., where he lives with his wife Robin, daughter Alexia and son Dru (Davis IV).

He spoke of Pavin's comments last week concerning Tiger Woods -- or as Love called him, "Mr. Woods" -- not being an automatic bid on the team.

"I think Corey's learning to keep his thoughts to himself," said Love, who has been on six Ryder Cup teams and six President Cup teams as a player.

Love also explained how his role as assistant captain would include him following a twosome around in a morning round, then reporting to Pavin concerning who should play in the afternoon round.

"Let's say Tiger and Phil (Mickelson) are paired together -- well, probably not Phil," he said with a grin. "Maybe Tiger and Steve Stricker."

He spoke lovingly of his late father, a swing coach widely regarded as one of the top five in the world when he was killed in a plane crash in 1988.

"I didn't listen to my father about my schoolwork," Love said. "I didn't listen to him about what time to come home. But I always listened to him about golf. So when he told me I could probably get through qualifying school my first try and win a PGA tournament my second year on tour, I said (of skipping his senior year at UNC): 'I'm gone.'"

And it all worked out exactly as Davis Love Jr. told his son it would. He mastered Q-school at Florida's Grenelefe course his first summer away from Chapel Hill. He won the 1987 Heritage Classic during his second year on tour. Ten years later he won the 1997 PGA Championship.

His 20 total tour wins give him a lifetime exemption, about which Love said, "I'm not exactly sure what that means, but I do know I'll never have to go to Q-school again, and that's a good thing."

The best thing, however, may have been the message Love delivered beyond his immediate instructions to the NCAA golfers "to play one shot at a time, play one hole at a time and listen to your coaches."

Said Love: "I know guys who work so hard on their game, are just consumed by the game, that it defeats them. I don't make golf the only thing in my life. Golf isn't what makes me happy. What makes me happy are my family, my friends and my faith."

To that end, Love hosts a get-together through the College Golf Fellowship group at his home each year with other PGA pros to discuss life beyond sand wedges and 2-irons.

"We had 54 people at our house one night," Love said. "The first 12 of them even got to sleep in beds."

So maybe he didn't need that final year of college after all. But that doesn't mean he doesn't appreciate all those players at the Honors this week who'll eventually be turning pro in something other than golf, as the NCAA likes to say.

"The odds of making the PGA Tour are so small," Love said. "Use golf to get a scholarship that will pay for an education that will help you earn a living for the rest of your life. That's winning."

Now if he could just get guys like Michael Jordan to say that more often.

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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