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Love 40

Trip's rise to excellence was something of a community project for Sea Island. He went to the course every day after school and practiced or played with whoever was there, often until dark. Compared with the more outgoing Mark, Penta recalls, Trip was something of a loner and made fewer friends of his own on St. Simons outside of Jimmy Hodges, one of his father's young assistant pros, who was ten years older. But he was known everywhere in town—the golf pro's son who could hit the ball over the back of the range—and in high school he led his team to a state championship. After three years playing for the University of North Carolina, when Love went off to qualify for the PGA Tour, the Sea Island Company gave him a dozen logoed shirts to wear and a small stipend. He made it through Q-school easily, married a Sea Island girl, Robin Bankston, and won his first tournament in 1987 during his second season on Tour. At twenty-three, the local boy was on his way.

But the next year, as most golf fans know, Love's father died in a small plane crash near Jacksonville, Florida, on his way to teach a clinic. Also killed were Jimmy Hodges, still Davis's best friend, as well as the director of golf from Sea Island and the pilot. The loss devastated not just the families involved but the entire Sea Island community, and it brought people together. "The day after my father died," Love says, "I was sitting on the porch, and Bill Jones came up and told me that as long as my mom stayed there in Sea Island, in her current circumstances, she would basically be taken care of. They let her keep her house, she wouldn't ever have to worry about golf or joining the club, anything."

And Love over the years has shown the same kind of loyalty back to Sea Island. He still wears the resort's logoed shirts when he plays and is announced as being from Sea Island—an arrangement for which Tour pros of far-lesser stature receive millions. But Love is paid minimally, if at all. "If there's a contract somewhere, I'd have no idea where it is," he says. "It's really more like a family thing."

Being from a small town is not without its downside, of course, especially for someone with Love's wealth and fame. Off the course, last year was Love's annus horribilis. His brother-in-law, whom he had trusted in a small-town kind of way to manage his personal affairs and a large chunk of his money, was discovered by the FBI to have embezzled nearly a million dollars from Love and subsequently shot himself to death last May at his remote cabin in nearby Camden County. Love found the body. Then, over the summer, rumors circulated around town of infidelities on Robin's part and other mischief, all of them untrue, according to Love. "Robin and I have grown up a lot, certainly, in the last year or so," Love says. "Robin has realized that she's in the public eye, whether she likes it or not. People are watching her, too. She's not just another lady in the carpool line. She didn't want to have to admit that for a long time, but she's accepted it now, and also accepted that we can't worry about what people say and think, because they're going to say and think whatever they want."

But it would never occur to Love to leave Sea Island, because it gives him what he needs: normalcy, isolation and even anonymity of a sort. Love says that inside the ropes at tournaments, he enjoys being admired as one of the best golfers on the planet. "But when I leave, I like having this fantasy world to drop into, where I'm not recognizable, or at least not in front of the public, and can live a quote-unquote normal life," he says. On St. Simons he's so familiar he's seldom bothered. One time at Sweet Mama's, a popular local diner, a visitor to the island asked about Love, having heard that he frequently ate breakfast at the joint. One of Love's friends answered, "Yeah, he does come in here a lot. Wait around, you might see him." He didn't point out that Love at that moment was in the next booth, wearing shorts and flip-flops, hiding behind a newspaper. The tourist never noticed. And when even this gets to be too much, Love can retreat to his sequestered country property, with its complex of relocated nineteenth-century cabins, and do nothing all morning but listen to the turkeys gobble.

Love's children are as integrated into the life of the island as he ever was. His fifteen-year-old daughter, Alexia (called "Lexie"), is a serious horsewoman (almost twenty horses as well as trucks, trailers, barns, trainers) and has worked part-time at a local dress shop to help pay for it all. And Dru is seriously into golf. He insists that he's going to start playing on Tour at age fifteen, even though Love keeps telling him that Tour commissioner Tim Finchem won't allow it. Love, remembering his father's dictum that golf must always be fun, does not give Dru any formal instruction, nor does Jack Lumpkin, yet. But the two Davises do hit balls and play a few holes together several times a week when Love is in town. (Love says the ten-year-old consistently drives the ball more than two hundred yards.) Last summer Love took Dru and a few of his pals up to a golf camp at UNC in his fabulous $1 million-plus bus and stayed the afternoon to give a clinic. Afterward he gave rides to Dru and his buddies on the back of his motorcycle, which he keeps stowed beneath the bus. Probably this was all pretty fun for the boys.

"Do you think that Bobby Jones or Sam Snead or Jack Nicklaus ever lost sleep worrying about his club going across the line?" Jack Lumpkin asks his star pupil on the range at Sea Island the week before this year's AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

"No, and I don't either," Love shoots back. "I just wanted to know if it's something I should be concerned about."

Lumpkin, a courtly but folksy, supernaturally patient man in his late sixties, shakes his head. "Now, Davis, if you see your swing on TV and the club's going across the line a bit, I don't want you to worry about it. The time for tweaking is not at a tournament. A tournament is the time to just go. Just get in your position like we've been working on and play yourself a good golf shot."

To me, this seemed like pretty rudimentary advice to be giving a superstar, but one thing Love, Lumpkin and Love's mental-game coach, Dr. Bob Rotella, decided together at the start of this year was to focus on avoiding distractions on every front: too many swing tweaks, too much worrying about results, too many commitments. "Davis knows from his past successes that he truly is one of the best players in the world and can compete against anyone," Lumpkin tells me later. "So we're trying to key in before each tournament simply on making sure he's ready to compete and to play his own game, to let Davis be Davis. If he can manage that, we figure the wins will take care of themselves."


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