It’s Family Before Golf, as Third Love Gets Open Opportunity
June 14, 2017 Erin, Wis. By Ron Driscoll, USGA
Davis Love III has competed in 23 U.S. Opens, but this week at Erin Hills he is helping his son, Davis Love IV, navigate his first appearance by serving as his caddie. (USGA/Jeff Haynes)

Davis Love IV, aka Dru, was recalling the first time he defeated his father on the golf course.

“I was 19 or 20 and we were trading birdies back and forth,” said Dru, now 23. “We got to the last hole, a par 5, and I made a 40-footer for eagle, and he made a 30-footer right on top of me. He turned around and said, ‘What was yours?’ I said 64. What was yours? ‘65.’ He turned around, walked to the cart and left me on the 18th green. Luckily we were with friends and I got a ride back to the clubhouse.”

“He wasn’t mad,” Dru said of his father, 21-time PGA Tour winner Davis Love III. “He was just joking with me. He is one of the most competitive people I’ve ever met, and there is no chance he’s ever going to let me win. But that was probably a good day for him.”

Father, foe, friend. On Thursday at 6:56 a.m., Dru will have his dad, a World Golf Hall of Fame inductee, as his caddie when he becomes the third generation of the Love family to play in the U.S. Open Championship. Dru’s grandfather, the late Davis Love Jr., competed in seven U.S. Opens, while his father, aka DL3, has competed in 23, including a second-place finish and five top 10s. That makes them the third family – joining the Herrons (Carson, Carson and Tim) and the Alexanders (Skip, Buddy and Tyson, who is competing in his second U.S. Open this week) – to complete the generational triple.

The way Dru sees it, he is carrying a mantle, not a burden of expectations.

“He’s just Dad – he’s always been Dad,” said the younger Love. “You turn on the TV and Dad’s on there, but it’s still just Dad. He’s never pressured me into playing golf. He actually wanted me to play baseball, I think, more than golf, growing up. When I was trying to make my decision whether to turn pro or stay amateur for the summer, he told me, ‘Dru, if you wanted to move to Canada and play hockey, I would be at every game.’ So no matter what I do, there is no added pressure.”

To hear Davis tell it, pressure is nothing new for his son, who played four years at the University of Alabama. Admittedly, some of that was reflected pressure.

“Is he going to be nervous? Of course,” said Davis. “But he’s also been in the crux of the Ryder Cup, in the team room [when Davis twice served as USA captain]. He’s walked with me in Sunday final rounds. He grew up in this arena.”

Dru’s grandfather, Davis Love Jr., was a renowned instructor and a good enough player to compete in 15 major championships. His best finish in seven U.S. Opens was a tie for 14th in 1963 at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass.

“He had a great respect for it – he always called it the National Open,” said Davis. “It’s funny, for my dad it was either state opens or major championships when I was a little kid. There wasn’t much in between for him. He would play well in the [National] Club Pro and get into the PGA, and he would try to qualify for the U.S. Open in those 36-hole qualifiers. He was always pretty good at getting in.”

Dru never knew his grandfather, a renowned teacher who died in a plane crash in 1988, five years before he was born. But he feels a deep connection to the man who brought his father into the game.

“I've read his journals, and I’ve read all his notes that he jotted down for people he taught,” said Dru. “And I’ve heard so many stories – there was a guy out there today as I was walking off a green who grabbed me and told me my grandfather taught him at Atlanta Country Club back in 1980. You just hear stories like that, over and over again, about how great a guy he was, and how much of a gentleman he was. I feel like I know him.”

Davis Love III wrote a book, “Every Shot I Take,” in 1997 to honor his father’s lessons on golf and life, and Dru is equally appreciative of what he has learned from his accomplished father, on and off the course.

“He has so much experience, has done so well on the PGA Tour and in life. But it’s not things that he tells me, but things that I see that are the most important,” said Dru. “Coming home from a tournament and missing the cut, he is the exact same Dad as he is if he won by 12. Golf is secondary.”

Secondary or not, Dru is taking an important step in the game this week, having turned professional ahead of this championship. His father, who competed on a USA Walker Cup Team and played in the U.S. Amateur, provided advice but left the decision to his son.

“I said, are you sure you want to turn pro? You can play in the U.S. Amateur first,” said Davis. “During his final semester in school, I told him, I’d really like to see you try to make the Walker Cup Team. But I also said, that’s my goal for you. Whatever you want to do, I’ll support you.”

For Dru’s part, he is now healthy after undergoing major shoulder surgery last summer.

“I went to Alabama for five years and played one healthy season of golf,” he said. “My dad jokes that I’m 23 years old but I’m 19 in golf years. So I just don’t have the experience, the reps, you might say. I’ve just really got to get out there and play. I’m going to try to get as much experience as fast as I can, without trying to wear myself out.”

He already learned a valuable lesson 10 days ago in Ball Ground, Ga., where he competed in the 36-hole qualifier for this championship. He ended up as the first alternate from the site, and got into the field on Monday.

“I saw the leader board when I was eating lunch in between rounds, and I got a little excited,” Dru admitted. “I let the moment get to me and I played a really bad nine holes. But I chipped away at it, and on the last hole, I chipped in for eagle to get that first alternate spot. I think I learned more on the first nine holes of that second 18 than I have any other round.”

Dru’s father is ready to help with ensuing lessons, starting on Thursday.

“It’s a little different, teeing it up at 6:50 in the morning,” said Davis. “My wife [Robin] has a broken bone in her foot, but she’s going to limp out there and watch him hit. His grandpa is here, his friends… it’s going to be pretty cool.”

Will it top the day that son beat father for the first time a few years ago?

“He didn’t tell you I beat him the last two times we played, did he?” asked the erstwhile caddie.

Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at rdriscoll@usga.org.