Love is back in the swing at Kapalua


POSTED: Friday, January 09, 2009

KAPALUA, Maui » Davis Love III's affair with Kapalua dates back to a place and time when the Plantation Course was only in the mind's eye of designers Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore.

He won the final Lincoln-Mercury Kapalua International in 1997 before the first Mercedes Championships was held here two years after. Love remembers playing on Maui in 1986, losing to Andy Bean on the Bay Course in a playoff, or learning his father's plane had dropped off the radar back in Florida when Love touched down here in 1988.

Love and his wife, Robin, got back on a plane bound for San Francisco after calling home, hoping his father was still alive, but fearing the worst. Four years after that tragedy, Love won the 1992 Kapalua International after losing it the year before to Mike Hulbert in another playoff.

So to see Love only two shots off the lead after the first round of yesterday's Mercedes-Benz Championship is no surprise to anyone who has followed his storied career. For most of the day, Love was in the lead before a couple of bogeys down the stretch dropped him into a tie for fifth at 4-under 69.

When asked about his long-standing relationship with this part of the world, and this place in particular, Love's thoughts were clear and concise.

“;A lot of great memories of playing here for a long, long time,”; Love said. “;I think that gets me around the golf course a little bit, too. Guys come over and they don't quite get it. I think it's a little bit of an advantage, a couple shots, playing in so many different conditions. Especially if it turns around and blows the other way, a lot of people have never seen that.”;

There are some who hope the Mercedes folks will pull up stakes and take this show someplace else in America after the contract runs out in 2010. Just don't count Love among them.

“;We all want it to stay here,”; Love said. “;There's a few players who don't like coming here, but for the most part, this is a great place for us to come. Whether it was the old format in November (Kapalua International) or the Mercedes, the people here are why we come back. It's just a great spot.

“;The only reason I could see it leave would be to go to the mainland somewhere or maybe you could pick up a player or two who they are looking for, like having it in Orlando (where Tiger Woods lives) or San Diego (where Phil Mickelson lives); Torrey Pines (where Woods has won six times, including the U.S. Open).”;

This brought a lot of laughter in the room before Love continued on his kind diatribe.

“;You could pick up a player or two, but you're not going to change your field by going to another course in Hawaii. This place is going to give you the best. This group of people (including tournament director Gary Planos) around this tournament are going to give the best hospitality, one of the best on tour.”;

Had anyone been watching Love's career of late, it's hard to imagine him qualifying for this winners-only tournament. A bad ankle sprain 16 months ago left the 44-year-old just a shadow of his former self, before he rallied to beat Tommy “;Two Gloves”; Gainey at the Children's Miracle Network Classic last November. It gave him his 20th victory on the PGA Tour and an eventual spot in golf's hall of fame.

“;I'm just ready to go again, just looking forward to building on it and working hard and staying competitive,”; Love said.