Golf

In his first SAS Championship, former UNC star Davis Love III wants to ‘win out here’

Davis Love III surprised a few people by winning the 2015 Wyndham Championship in Greensboro.

Not that he won. The former North Carolina All-America had twice won the PGA Tour event through the years. But he was 51, an age when many pro golfers have transitioned -- most quite happily -- to the PGA Tour Champions.

Love’s victory in Greensboro only whet his appetite. A 21-time winner on the PGA Tour, he still felt competitive against the young guys and wanted to stay on the big tour. As the U.S. Ryder Cup captain in 2012 and 2016, he was better able to closely track some of the best on the PGA Tour, often playing in tournaments with them.

At 55, Love might be ready for a change: more tournaments with the 50-and-older set and less with the likes of a Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson or Rory McIlroy, and on ever-longer PGA Tour golf courses. That’s one reason he’s appearing for the first time in the SAS Championship at Prestonwood Country Club this week, hoping to play his way into the PGA Tour Champions Charles Schwab Cup Playoffs.

Love smiled Thursday recalling a conversation he had years ago with Fred Couples and Raymond Floyd about senior golf.

“Fred and I said, at 28, 29, 30, hanging out with Raymond Floyd, ‘I will never play the Champions Tour,’” Love said in a media interview. “Raymond said, ‘Oh, yeah? You will.’ And he was right.”

Love’s plan was to stay on the PGA Tour for the entire 2018-19 season, and a seventh-place finish in the Sony Open in Hawaii, with a 65 in the final round, was a confidence booster. His goal, he said, was to finish in the top 125 in the FedEx Cup points and qualify again for The Players Championship, the prestigious tournament Love has twice won. The Sony was a start.

Instead, Love missed four of five cuts after the Sony Open and last played the PGA Tour in late April, in New Orleans. In August, he began entering Champions events, but with pedestrian results -- his best finish in five tournaments has been a tie for 32nd at the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open.

That’s not what Love, a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, was expecting but can pinpoint the reasons why.

“I’m just not freeing it up and playing,” Love said. “I don’t know the courses well. It’s kind of my first lap around. I’m trying too hard, getting in my own way a little bit.

“What I need to do is figure out how to play good in one of these tournaments right now. I need to figure out how to win out here.”

Bernhard Langer ‘was ready to move on’

Bernhard Langer has long since figured it out. A two-time Masters champion, he has won 40 times on the Champions tour including last year’s SAS Championship, where he opened with a 62 and closed at 22 under par over 54 holes for a six-shot win over Scott Parel.

Langer, 62, said it was an easy decision to leave the PGA Tour and move on to the Champions tour once he turned 50. Not that’s it’s easy for everyone, he said.

“Everyone is somewhat tempted and some of them may be missing it more than others,” Langer said Thursday. “You take guys like Jerry Kelly or Rod Pampling ... there’s no wavering about it. But then you have guys like Vijay (Singh) or Davis Love or the odd other who felt, oh, I still want to play a couple. Like Kenny Perry. I think he felt he wanted to play a handful of tournaments on the PGA Tour, on courses he really did well on. I understand that.

“I started very young. I was on Tour when I was 18. Some guys don’t get on tour until they’re 28, so I’m 10 years ahead of them. I’ve been there, done that and I was ready to move on.”

Joining the PGA Tour Champions in 2007, Langer tied for 11th in the SAS Championship -- his second event as a senior -- and then won his fourth. He won three times in 2008 and that was that. He was a full-time senior tour member.

“I didn’t wrestle with it much,” Langer said. “At first I thought it might be bittersweet but I think it took me all of two or three tournaments and I knew I wanted to be out here, not on the PGA Tour any longer.

“I feel I’ve done the European Tour, I’ve done the PGA Tour. I wanted to have something new and different. I felt very much that this is where I wanted to play the rest of my career.”

Love is paired with Couples in the first round of SAS, which Love said should relax him. Couples, 60, has 13 victories on the PGA Tour Champions and the two are old friends, so it should be an interesting conversation.

SAS Championship

What: PGA Tour Champions event

When: Friday-Sunday

Where: Prestonwood Country Club, Cary

Information: www.saschampionship.com

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In more than 30 years at The N&O, Chip Alexander has covered the N.C. State, UNC, Duke and East Carolina beats, and now is in his 11th season on the Carolina Hurricanes beat. Alexander, who has won numerous writing awards at the state and national level, covered the Hurricanes’ move to North Carolina in 1997 and was a part of The N&O’s coverage of the Canes’ 2006 Stanley Cup run.
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