It was near midnight on the first Saturday of October, the Ryder Cup’s 12 Sunday singles matches awaiting with the arrival of a new morning, and U.S. captain Davis Love III saw a fresh text light up the screen on his cell phone.
It read, “I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep. There are no more pairings to make.” The sender? Tiger Woods, he of the 14 major victories, who was in a completely new role at Hazeltine as one of Love’s six assistant captains.
Clearly, Woods was into his new job. And Love said Woods played a key part in devising a Sunday strategy the helped lead the U.S. into singles and eventually, to victory in the Ryder Cup for the first time in eight years.
“Tiger was just amazing,” Love said Wednesday at the RSM Classic, the PGA Tour event that he helps to host each fall on Sea Island. “He had a great system. It really helped us on Sunday. We had already talked about Sunday pairings so many times that when the crunch time came, we knew what we were doing.”
Four years earlier, Love’s U.S. team had let a 10-6 lead slip away on Sunday at Medinah. This time, Love said one of the biggest keys in turning around a run of six losses in seven Ryder Cups was simply better communication. A month before the start of the Ryder Cup, Zach Johnson, a two-time major winner and one of Love’s neighbors on Sea Island, phoned his captain with some exciting news. He’d just hung up the phone with Woods.
“I just talked to Tiger for 59 minutes,” Johnson told Love. “He never called me his whole career.”
Love also credited Woods with inspiring Patrick Reed, who became the man of the match, taking down Rory McIlroy in the leadoff singles match.
“You know,” Love said, “Patrick Reed … it was a big part what Patrick Reed did that Tiger Woods was his guy.”
It’s been a really nice autumn for Love. Weeks after the Ryder Cup, he fielded a phone call from good friend Tim Finchem, the PGA Tour commissioner, telling him he’d been voted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. He’ll go in with the Class of 2017 the week of the Presidents Cup in September. Love, who had surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left hip earlier this year, said it was cool to ride around in a cart and be a coach for a week, but watching the action reminded him of what he missed out on Tour.
“Yeah, it definitely makes me want to play,” said Love, 52. “Watching these guys play, I was excited.”
The Ryder Cup chalice will be making the rounds among team members and captains – much like hockey’s Stanley Cup does each summer – and this week it’s in Love’s possession. It has been bouncing around in the cab of his pickup truck. Love put a picture on his Twitter feed of his little granddaughter with the trophy’s cover atop her head on Tuesday. And that tiny 17-inch Ryder Cup was a popular photo star at the Tuesday night pro-am pairings party at Love’s house. Everyone, it seemed, wanted a picture with it.
As he motioned to the trophy sitting next to him, Love smirked and said, “It has a bit of a smell of Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon right now, for some reason, from last night.”
The 15-year-old Pappy Van Winkle goes for about $2,000 a bottle. Alas, having that little trophy again knows no cost.