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June 12, 2001

Davis Love III


RAND JERRIS: Pleasure to have Davis Love III with us this afternoon. Davis, thanks for taking some time out of your preparation schedule to join us. This is Davis's 13th appearance in the U.S. Open, and has tied for fourth in 1995 and a tie for second in 1996. And maybe you can start us off by telling us your impressions of Southern Hills this week, and what you expect from the championship.

DAVIS LOVE III: Well, I laughed when you said preparation, because there hasn't been much, for me. But the golf course is great. Obviously, I've been fortunate enough to play here a lot. The course is in great shape. The comments about the greens are that we've never seen greens like this before; they're so good, especially in this heat. And obviously the rough is deep and the course is long, and it's hot. But the course is great. And I'm shocked at what good shape it's in and looking forward to the challenge. It's going to be a tough golf course to play, especially if the wind blows the way it has been the last few days.

Q. Speaking of the heat, what kind of factor is it going to play? Who does it benefit? Is it that big an issue?

DAVIS LOVE III: I think it's an issue that you have to be aware of, but obviously the guys that played in Memphis last week are used to it. We do it a lot. You have to make sure you drink lots of water, and I think it's a bigger effect on the guys that don't compete all the time. And when you get tired, you get mentally fatigued, and probably the better players are more equipped to handle it because they're used to playing under all different circumstances and handling their emotions better and concentrating better. Fatigue and concentration will go hand in hand. It will be a long, grueling week for a lot of guys.

Q. You've had some strong opinions in the past about when the rough at the U.S. Open got like real deep, like six, seven inches deep. And now that they've seemed to back off a little bit the last three years, your comments on what kind of tournaments you think that has produced in the last three years, and how you feel about having the chance to -- some chances to reach a green, even though you miss a fairway, which you didn't always have?

DAVIS LOVE III: I think seems like maybe starting in Washington when Ernie won, the courses, the setups have gotten more and more reasonable. There have been more chipping areas around the greens. I think they realize that the deep rough right around every green took shot-making out of it. There's nothing more exciting than seeing a player putt with his 3-wood up the hill or hit different kinds of shots, rather than hitting an L-wedge or 60 degree wedge out of the deep rough on every green. But I think they realize that you can make a penalty without making it a hay field. And I think this rough you're going to find is going to be more challenging than if it was really, really deep. Because now you have to make a decision: Well, can I hit a flyer to get it near the green; or if you're in a good lie, one guy is going to hit it close, and the next guy is going to blow it way over the green. There's nothing scarier than dry Bermuda. You're going to get some deep spots and rough light spots that are going to be just as difficult. You'll see more guys going at the greens, and more guys having problems because they're able to go for the greens. When the Walker Cup is coming to Ocean Forest -- and if you can keep it where they can hit flyers, it's going to drive them crazy, rather than make it so deep that everyone chips out and hits the same shot on the green. It becomes a risk/reward shot every time you hit it in the rough, rather than just a penalty.

Q. Davis, are your expectations any lower this time around because of the circumstances?

DAVIS LOVE III: Well, I'm just trying to use the way that I've come into this Open as a positive, rather than a negative; that I'm well relaxed, I'm well rested, I haven't been struggling with my game or anything. And if I can turn everything into a positive, that guys just coming into the locker room saying, "Man, it's hot out there," and I didn't even get hot today, I played nine holes early. I'm trying to use everything I can as a positive. And expectations are: I wouldn't be here if I didn't think I could come and play and win. I would probably need another week or two off. So my expectations are the same, and just a little bit different preparation. Trying to use the David Duval model of 'laying off doesn't always hurt you'.

Q. And secondly, can you just give us a brief recap of what it is that kept you on vacation?

DAVIS LOVE III: Well, I had -- I have a bulging disk in my neck. Just a slight bulge. And I think the combination of preparing for the spring tournaments, The Masters and THE PLAYERS Championship and playing 36 in Atlanta just all kind of piled up on me at once. And I basically injured myself or bruised my -- something around my spine in my neck that just needed time to calm down. And there's not much you can do when you have a nerve problem, other than let it rest or have surgery. And surgery is not a good option for a golfer. So, sure enough, waiting this long has made it a lot better.

Q. Was surgery an option?

DAVIS LOVE III: Well, it's always an option. But it's not always a good one when you need mobility. I think surgery would have gotten rid of the tingling and numbness in my fingers probably immediately, but what would it have done down the road as far as being able to play or have it come back. The theory now is just wait and see if you can get it to go away and not reinjure it. The trick for me is not to go out and hit 500 balls practicing and reinjure it. And then I can take next week off and be probably 100% ready to go for the rest of the summer. But my one mistake in this layoff was that I said, "Oh, I feel good now," and I went to Fort Worth, trying to get ready, and basically reinjured it again and had to wait another couple of weeks to get completely gone. But it's hard. When you go home, you don't have any symptoms -- I wanted to come back and play, and I just didn't give it quite enough time.

Q. When did you start hitting balls?

DAVIS LOVE III: I hit a few on Friday. I've hit -- maybe full shots, starting with ten or 15 on Friday, and I worked my way up to probably 60 or 70 full shots today. But I'm hitting it normal distances and I really haven't hit that many bad shots, because I'm concentrating on every one of them. When they give you half a bucket and say "this is all you get to hit," you seem to concentrate better. I've been pleasantly surprised. I actually feel stronger than when I stopped, because a lot of years of playing, and all of a sudden I got a nice little break there, where I didn't do anything. No exercising. Nothing. So I'm really fresh. I have to come back in the next few weeks and restart my exercising and restart my golf training. But right now, I feel great.

Q. Davis, as well as your season started out this year, before all this happened, did you have to battle any kind of "woe is me," before you can start thinking: "I'm refreshed, I can go now"?

DAVIS LOVE III: Not really. I've always tried to stay positive. I had a lot of fun since Hilton Head. It was disappointing to go to a couple of tournaments and not get to play. But I spent a lot of great time with my kids and my family and doing things at home that I haven't been able to do in a long time. And I actually got to turkey hunt for the first time in my 15 years on Tour. So it was actually a nice break. I don't want it every year. I don't want to be hurting during THE PLAYERS, Masters time of year ever again. That was frustrating. But I never felt bad about it, except that I was getting myself a little bit behind the 8-ball for the Open. But now I feel good about it. My main goal after finding out I was going to have to take some time off is: "Don't let me miss the Ryder Cup." And as long as I can play the Open with a chance to do well, play the British Open, the PGA and maybe a few others and be ready for the Ryder Cup, I'll be happy. And yeah, I was off to a great start and I think I tried to get a little bit better and be more ready for The Masters, and I just pushed myself over the edge. And there's a reason for everything happening, and I think maybe I just realized that there's only so much I can do, and beating my head against the wall isn't going to make myself that much better, and I need to be patient with it.

Q. From what you remember in '94, '95 and '96, are the course conditions now going to be tougher or easier, and have you seen enough of the changes to make a determination to see if it will make a difference?

DAVIS LOVE III: I haven't seen all of them. But I think it will be tougher because of the length. And THE TOUR Championship, it was hard to grow this much rough, because of the time of the year. But I would say it will probably be a little harder, but not much.

Q. Davis, how long was the break when you didn't hit any balls at all, like maybe each of those times, when you started and stopped? And what was it kind of --?

DAVIS LOVE III: From Hilton Head until the Tuesday of New Orleans I didn't hit a ball. So that was a couple of weeks break. And then until the weekend before Colonial, again, I didn't hit any balls, so a few more days. And then since Tuesday at Colonial until Friday, this past Friday I didn't hit any balls. I had a couple of long stretches. And like I said, if I hadn't of hit balls -- if I hadn't of felt like I could go play Fort Worth and practice for three or four days, three days, then I would probably be 100%. I would have been playing maybe Memphis. But I just jumped out a little ahead. But it's hard to believe when you get a whole bunch of different opinions, it's hard to pick the right one to listen to. And, obviously, taking the conservative approach is always better. I just was a little anxious and didn't give it quite enough time.

Q. When the nerve was pinching, what was it like in your golf swing as far as what could you do with your swing and hold the club and everything else?

DAVIS LOVE III: The problem I was having, and it's been really -- started getting bad on the West Coast, was I would hit a shot and I would get a tingling in my fingers. And it would progressively get worse, and I would have either a little bit of a loss of strength or loss of power or a perceived lack of strength, and it was more -- it wasn't really that I was hurt. It was that you felt like something was tearing up. It was like a funny sound in the motor. It was still running good, but there was a funny sound; you knew something bad was about to happen. So I didn't take the hint early enough. But it never really hurt. It just felt funny. And when I hit a bad shot or felt something funny, it would put a little doubt in my mind of "is it going to happen again, what's going on"; rather than "I've hurt myself, I have to stop." And it was more of a confusion thing than a straight-out: "All right, I blew my knee out, I've got to go get it fixed." It was a little bit more of a mental thing almost. I felt like I was 85%, 90%, and that was good enough, and I can win, and I can still play, and I want to keep playing. And maybe it will go away, and it just never would go away.

Q. Davis, in light of Tiger obviously being very much a favorite as he always is every week, David Duval a little earlier was talking about using some words like needing "perfect" rounds, and "mistake-free" golf and things like that at tournaments like this to beat Tiger. I'm just wondering if in your mind you go into a tournament thinking that you need to do extraordinary things to overcome him and the course and all the other elements?

DAVIS LOVE III: Well, I think to win any major, you have to do pretty much everything right. You're not going to win on playing average golf. And out here average golf means really good golf. So I think you have to play great, obviously, to win. And it doesn't matter if it's Tiger or David or Phil, somebody is going to play really, really good. Today it takes -- you can't play mistake-free golf. Nobody does that. But you have to play very, very well to win, no matter whether it's Memphis or U.S. Open. It's very tough to do. When the guy is making a lot of putts, it's very -- it makes it even harder. So now for us anybody in this field, you have to go out with the approach of: I've got to be extremely patient and play the best I can and see what happens. And it's even more important to not pay any attention to what everybody else is doing. If you go out and try to figure out what Phil Mickelson or David Duval are going to shoot and try to beat it, you'll never win. It's still the same old game. It's a mental battle. And the course is going to be tough, the wind is going to be tough and the competition is going to be tough. It's the guy who wins the mental battle that will do it. And that's what Tiger has been doing. He's been winning the mental battle and making more putts and he keeps coming out on top.

Q. Davis, there's been a lot of talk about the length of the par-4s here, and, of course, the big par-5 hole. The way you see it, does this course set up to a distinct advantage for long hitters or do you not see it that way?

DAVIS LOVE III: It's funny, we used to hear that they're Tiger-proofing or long-hitter-proofing these golf courses, and now they're starting to realize that the longer they make it is actually to our advantage. I hope every hole is a 500-yard par-4, because it shrinks the field down some. But in a U.S. Open, it's still -- long hitters have an advantage, no matter where. But in a U.S. Open, it comes down to short game. That's the awesome combination of any of these players, Phil Mickelson or David Duval or Tiger Woods or whoever; that they can hit it that far and still putt well. Obviously, we keep coming back to it, but there is an explanation for why Tiger Woods is the best player in the world and the best streak that anybody has been on in a long, long time. We haven't ever seen anybody putt like that; that can hit the ball over 250 yards. It's mind-boggling that you can go on that kind of a streak for that long. And the length is definitely always going to be a factor. But it's still going to come down to putting, I think, especially this week, because this is an interesting set of greens, just like a Winged Foot. You need to be under the hole, putting uphill, very patient with it. And you're going to have to make some putts, some tricky putts to win.

Q. Davis, in recent issue of the golf magazine, they talked about if you put a golf ball in a certain way, hit it in certain parts, the golf ball it goes far --?

DAVIS LOVE III: Who said that?

Q. In a recent golf magazine, something about the new Titleist ball.

DAVIS LOVE III: Who said that?

Q. It was Golf Magazine.

DAVIS LOVE III: If they did that, it wouldn't be on the USGA-approved list.

RAND JERRIS: Davis, thanks for spending some time with us this afternoon and good luck this week.

End of FastScripts....

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