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April 8, 2003

Davis Love III


JIM BLANCHARD: Ladies and gentlemen, we are delighted to have Davis Love III here for our next interview. As you know, he's just coming off a great victory at the Players Championship. His 16th PGA TOUR victory. Davis was the first round leader of our tournament last year. He's been a consistent high finisher at Augusta with top-10 finishes five times in the 13 starts. And a solo second place in 1995, as well as 1999. We would be happy to take your questions.

Q. Last year you came in, you were the first round leader and you were grousing about how everybody kind of left you off the list of favorites and now I think it's Tiger and you are one, two. Does it matter to you? Is that good, bad, indifferent?

DAVIS LOVE III: It's certainly better. I would rather be two back after the first day and talk to you on Sunday. But no, it's nice to be back on the list. And it's nice to be have everyone else consider me a favorite, but also that I consider myself one of the favorites. I think that's even more important. And to be excited about it, and not trying to find my game, figure something out while I'm here. Just a matter of now getting through the puddles and getting to Wednesday night and the par-3 and being excited about playing rather than frustrated about where my game was.

Q. Did you go back to Sea Island after all yesterday or did you decide to stay here and --

DAVIS LOVE III: I decided to stay. It looked like we would get to play this morning and I didn't want to miss out on getting on the golf course, even though I only got nine holes today, just because I needed to hit some balls this morning and the course is wet and you don't need to play it a whole lot. It's just nice to putt, is really the main thing. And I could hit balls at home, but I couldn't putt on these kind of greens. So it was nice to get out and do a little chipping and putting for nine holes.

Q. As a follow-up, we were talking to Ernie and he was talking about the career grand slam and how much the Masters would mean to him. Can you talk about if now at this stage of your career what this means to you being here and with a real chance to win it?

DAVIS LOVE III: Well, it means pretty much the same to me as it always has. It's one of the big four tournaments. I grew up in Georgia and close to the Masters and knew a lot about it from a young age. When I was growing up, it was the tournament, not a tournament. And my dad brought me here to watch and told me stories about him playing. So it would be just an honor and a thrill to win this golf tournament. And seeing how it's the first one of the year, you know, it's the one we point towards for the longest. And I need three more to complete Ernie's slam, you know. I'm behind. So I would dearly love to start my career grand slam right here.

Q. You talked about how confident you are in your game. Could you also talk about how, if you are more mentally confident now than you maybe have been in the past Majors?

DAVIS LOVE III: Well, I think that goes together, really. I think that you can't play well unless you mentally feel like you're going to play well. You might have one good round or, like I did here last year, have one good round here or there. Or two or maybe three. But you're certainly not going to have four. And I think that's where I've been both physically and mentally. I just wasn't ready for four good rounds.

I kept saying it for years, I just need to play four good rounds. It's like I'm playing one or two once in a while and as you all say, you need one hot nine or one hot day and three really good days. And I just haven't been having that kind of week like I did at the Players where I had three really good days and one great day. And here last year I had one really good day and three days that were kind of so-so.

And I think you have to be confident in what you're doing on the driving range, and confident in what you're doing on the golf course and confident in your game plan to get focused on your targets and just play golf as we said at the Players, one hole at a time is very boring. One shot at a time is very boring. But if you're playing good you can convince yourself to do it a little bit better, a little bit easier.

Q. It seemed like the weather would narrow the field even further. Could you sort of address that issue in terms of how long this course is now? And I think it was Phil or Ernie said probably 7600 yards it's probably playing since it's all flight.

DAVIS LOVE III: Well, it's playing even longer than probably last year. Because at least last year we started off with it dry. We started off with it wet this year and now we're going to have to hope that it drys up some on the weekend. But I think that it's hard to keep -- I keep saying this with you, but it's a lot like last year. It's wet, the greens are soft. And the field is certainly narrowed a little bit. But I think that still your short game around here is still very very important, even with the length.

I've been going back and looking at players that have played well here and scores that players have shot. And you still see the Retief Goosen's and the Jose and Faldo and others, the guys with good imagination and good touch and great putters, even back to mid '90, Crenshaws and players like that that aren't necessarily long but are very skilled around the greens. I think that is still a big part of it.

I mean, I have to chip and putt like I did at the Players, as well as hit it long. So does Ernie or Tiger or Phil, to keep up with a guy like Craig Perks, who's got a beautiful, incredibly good short game. And if a guy like that gets hot, and hits it fairly long, but not extremely long, and he gets really hot with a putter, like Ben Crenshaw did or Jose, when he's getting the ball up-and-down, he's hard to beat. So I think that you have to do all of it. But it certainly is going to be long. We're going to -- the guys that hit it long won't get worn down as fast as the guys that don't hit it a long way.

Q. The weeks that you have played well here, was there a common thread to why you eventually didn't win? Was it maybe short game failings or did it seem to be a different thing every time?

DAVIS LOVE III: No, I think when Jose won his second time and I finished second, I let a few shots get away from me. It seemed like the 15th hole got me a couple times. I didn't play the par-5s as well as I should have. When Ben won, I don't know if I did anything wrong or not. I mean, I shot a really, really low score and felt like I had won the golf tournament when I finished. And he had an incredible week. And maybe he was blessed or maybe it was just his time or whatever. But he played an incredible tournament for him. For anybody. I don't know if it was 15-under he shot or what -- 14-under -- what the score was. But I don't think I did anything wrong that week.

That was a Masters that I'll always remember as I shot a score good enough to win most Masters. And somebody just played something spectacular. I know a lot like maybe Jay Haas and Craig Perks felt at the Players that, hey, we played good enough with three or four holes to go, we should have been fighting it out between us for who was going to win and somebody just blew us away. So I know I can shoot a score good enough.

But for me, it's always been a little thing. I've made plenty of birdies here, not really anybody makes eagles that much anymore, but I get lots of chances for eagles and easy birdies. So I feel like I can do it. And I have shot a good score here in the past to prove it. It's just a hard, hard tournament to win. And I haven't had a whole lot of really good chances up there to do it.

Q. And also real quick, do you remember the first time you ever played here and how old you were?

DAVIS LOVE III: I played when I was in college at North Carolina and we had won a college tournament here in town and some of the members had us out to play as a prize or a reward for winning that tournament. It was kind of a tradition they had for a few years and we came as a team. And it was a lot of fun.

Q. You mentioned that this is a tournament you point to the longest. Does that add to the difficulty of winning it is because you are thinking about it for so much time than the other Majors?

DAVIS LOVE III: I think you're not in a Major groove, you're not having played a round or two or three that really mean that kind of pressure. I think the players is certainly helping us with that, over the last 10 or 12 years. But I think this is the first one, you know, it is your first shot at it. I think you're a lot more comfortable when you get to the PGA with Major championship rounds of golf than you are at Augusta.

And also, this place can be very very tricky and I think that you may get a little more anxious here over the ball on some shots than you would maybe at another course. Sometimes it's nice to know that -- not know where the trouble is. When you play a course over and over and over, you learn not only where the good places are, but where the bad places are and how fine a line it is on some shots. And I think that when we go to the Players Championship, or here, you've seen all of the tough shots and realized how tough they are and how difficult the course is and it maybe gets, this one is just a little bit harder. And maybe because this one seems a little bit more special, it's harder to relax and play.

Q. Since you won the PGA, has that taken a big load off your shoulders and does that make it easier for you to come in someplace like here and win this golf tournament?

DAVIS LOVE III: I thought it works, but that was '97. So it's helped me with my confidence. But it hasn't really paid off for me yet. So I thought, yeah, after the PGA, you look at a lot of guys that once they've won one they kind of get on a roll, win a bunch of them. But I've learned from watching that there's very few of those guys that win a whole bunch of them. But I thought it would be easier. I'm more relaxed here, yes, since '97, but I need it to pay off in a win.

Q. You talk about how difficult it is to win this championship and you've come very close. Given that, if you are not the guy that's slipping on the jacket on Sunday and Tiger happens to win his third, can you just address what kind of an accomplishment that would be if that unfolds?

DAVIS LOVE III: I think that you can judge it by history. Nobody's done it. But I don't know, I don't want to get into what that means. But it would be an incredible accomplishment.

Q. I know one hot round is not enough, but what did you take from like that five-birdie stretch at the Players? That would seem to be such am empowering kind of feeling.

DAVIS LOVE III: Well, it's nice to -- and Jim Gray asked me after Friday, I think it was, if I have ever made five birdies in row? Because I birdied five, I guess, on my second nine. And I said, yeah, I've made five birdies in a row. And then I did it on Sunday and I thought, well, I've never make five birdies in a row when it meant something like that. And so it was a very peaceful but exciting stretch of holes. I felt like once I birdied 8 and 9 that I did have a chance to win the golf tournament.

And then to rattle off throw more in a row and I think some other players said not only did he win but when he got the lead he kept the hammer down. And that to me was as important really as anything as the score or the day or how many I won, by was like I did at Winged Foot, when I got ahead, I just kept going. And it was a very rewarding feeling, that with a few finishes like it, even at Pebble or at Honda, that I didn't finish like I wanted to.

Yeah, I won Pebble, but I didn't win it the way I wanted to win it. And maybe because I was trying to win it by trying to slam the door rather than just play the golf course. And I did that at the Players. I played the golf course. And I didn't play Freddy, and I didn't play Jay, and I didn't play anybody else. I just played the golf course and I kept it going. And I learned a lot. And if you learn a lot when you don't win, like I did at Honda, I learned a lot from that. And luckily I got a chance a few weeks later to apply it. And I think if you keep learning, things like that will happen for you. And it was a great feeling. I went back and watched it I guess on Thursday, and it did look easy. A lot easier than it felt. I think that's what the guys kept coming to me and saying, is you looked calm and it looked easy and what are you doing different? They would talk about the zone or the flow or the rhythm or whatever and I finally got into it on a Sunday which I hadn't done a whole lot of times.

Q. I think you said at the Players that when your dad was teaching to you play it was always "hit it as far as you can and we'll straighten it out later," something to that effect. Did you ever get the impression or did you ever have any conversations with him that that was designed for this golf course, this tournament? Anything like that?

DAVIS LOVE III: No, I think it was designed because he played a few Masters and quite a few Opens and British Opens and PGAs, and he realized that I wasn't going to be able to compete if I hit it like him. The guys that were out there even when I was in college, there was talk of how long players were, how long Jack Nicklaus and Freddie Couples and Craig Stadler and how far these guys were hitting it. Andy Bean. How far these guys were hitting the golf ball. So he wanted me to hit it a long way and not short and hook it like he did it. And I don't think it was really designed for Augusta, it was designed for professional golf.

I mean he was ahead of his time in a lot of things he taught. But he also was smart enough to look backwards and say, why did Jack Nicklaus, why did he dominate? Why did he hit it so far? And because he was taught by Jack Grout at a young age to take a rip at it. And Greg Norman learned from what Jack learned. And Greg came out bombing it and putting well. And I think he was just pointing me towards having a chance in professional golf, not really one particular place.

Q. You are putting as well I think as you've ever putted, and I was just curious, was there a tip, a thought, when did this start to come over you?

DAVIS LOVE III: Well, I have been working with Bob Rotella for a long, long time. And improving my stats, I don't know if they show it, a steady progression, but I've over the years, with some ups and downs, I've gotten better and better as a putter. But I finally this past summer decided that if I was going to get to be a great putter that I had to improve my stroke.

I went to Scotty Cameron's after the PGA last year when I had a run of not really being involved in the Majors and I felt like it was just because I never really got hot with a putter, and I said, you know, I'm doing as good as I can with my routine, I'm as focused as I could be and I'm trying as hard as I can. My stroke's just not quite there and I went to Scotty and I said give me a putter that will help my stroke and make me swing it more to the inside. And he actually said, well, you could use whatever putter you want, he said, but here's a training aid that will help you do that. And he convinced me that it really didn't have anything to do -- he obviously wanted me to use his putter, but it wasn't a putter that was going to do it, it was that I had to spend some time changing the way I thought about my back stroke. And I was so focused on not thinking about my stroke that I was always a little leery of working on changing something in my stroke.

But he gave me this training aid and then Jack Lumkin gave me another one because he was so excited about what I was doing with Scotty and he said, try this one, too. So now I've got two things I carry around with me and it's helping my putter come inside. If you watch Faxon, Norman, even Tiger, their putter swings like their golf club does, a little to the inside, and mine was always kind of straight back or almost outside. And that's improvement. I immediately started having better putting weeks. That was after the PGA, before the NEC, and I putted very well there.

I had some good tournaments at the end of the year and I was excited about my putting and that's kind of what got me fired up about this year, is I kind of had something to build on. I finished last year putting well and I felt like if I could get to hitting it a little bit better that I felt like now I could make putts. And I putted great at Pebble, better than I did at the Players. I putted just incredibly well at Pebble. And was not a hundred percent with my ball striking. So it finally I guess at the Players it kind of came together that the ball striking again caught up with my putt continuing. And I hit the ball, except for four or five shots at the Honda, I hit the ball incredibly well there, too. So I just didn't finish it off. But I was shooting an awful low score for me, I was shooting 2-under that back nine rather than 1-over. And I'm in the high 20s. That's an awful low score for me. That would have been a lot of birdies.

But Scotty really got me pointed in the right direction and I think Scotty's wonderful putter makerer-- that's probably not the right term -- artist with a putter. He is good at understanding the stroke. And what the stroke has to look like and what it needs to do and how the ball rolls. And he's analyzed it and taken it apart. And he doesn't care who walks in there, he's not going to change his mind on how the ball has to roll off the putter face. And he's not afraid to, if you ask, what am I doing wrong, he's not afraid to tell you.

He really got me pointed in the right direction, and I think because of that my confidence has grown even more and I've gotten more into what I'm doing as far as the routine because I know it will go where I'm looking now, more often than it has in the past.

Q. So you didn't leave with one of his putters?


Q. Oh, you did?

DAVIS LOVE III: Because I figured --

Q. It was free?

DAVIS LOVE III: Well, it's free and they will pay me to use it.

(Laughter.) And it was a total package. He said the putter's got to sit right so let's find one that sits the way you want it to sit. And we'll bend it the way you want it to look. And we'll make it sound the way you want it to sound and then he has this little square you've probably seen it, a cube thing that sticks on the face and then he says you swing it to the inside, he said then you've got your own, it is your own deal, it's not mine, you just tell me what you want it to look like. And so I left there with my putter, with a new stroke, and an excitement about putting.

And then of course went and played a practice round with Brad Faxon and watched him make, I can't remember what it was, but he made something like several birdies in the first 10 holes in a practice round at NEC, and I just watched, it was like watching, we were playing a game and it was just the ball just kept going in the hole and said, oh, okay, now I've got a visual reference to what Scotty was talking about. That's how the ball rolls. And I really, if I don't feel like I'm putting a hundred percent, I go stand behind Brad and watch that putter swing to the inside. And I go, oh, okay. And then I change my grip, I change my putter and change my practice habits. And I don't practice it on the putting green, I do it back at the room or in the house. And it's really helped.

Q. With two wins and the performance at the Players do you think other players now maybe have you a little on their mind? They will see your name and they will think that, wow, this guy is in a groove? Do you have a little bit more intimidation factor than you had before, do you think?

DAVIS LOVE III: I don't know. I was very flattered by a lot of the things that Freddie said. And a lot of things that Jay Haas said. And somebody asked Jay that, do you think that in the past guys have not worried about seeing Davis' name pop up on the leaderboard and he said, no, I disagree with that. I think that guys know when he's playing well he's hard to beat. But I think that -- I think maybe in the near future they might say, well, gosh, he played great Sunday at Players, and blew everybody away and he's playing well.

So I don't think they will be intimidated, but I think they will recognize the fact that I'm a guy to beat if I can get on the board on the weekend. I don't think that the top players really -- they look and they look away. I think we're all learning it's fun to look but try not to recognize what's going on up there. At least I don't think Tiger looks at the board and worries about anybody else. It's best for us not to worry about him or anybody but ourselves.

JIM BLANCHARD: Davis, thank you for being with us. You'll be a real favorite here in Augusta. Good luck this week.

DAVIS LOVE III: Thank you.

End of FastScripts....

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