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Davis Love’s Step Back To Go Two Forward

It wasn’t so much the tingling in his fingers and up his forearms that got Davis Love III. And it wasn’t necessarily the unwelcome stiffness and discomfort that would arrive at the base of his neck between his shoulder blades and stay like a head cold. Love had learned to live with the tiny taser-like feeling that came with hitting a routine 8-iron shot and the compensations his discomfort created in his golf swing, his snowboarding and his workout routine. What finally pushed Love to put himself on an operating table last Friday to have the problems caused by spinal stenosis and bone spurs corrected was as much the thought of being worry free as pain free. “Since I started hitting balls in December, I haven’t stopped,” Love said two days before his surgery. “I’ve had a bad attitude in general. Mac Barnhardt, my agent, said, ‘You haven’t been yourself. You haven’t been happy.’ “That was enough reason to get it done. I’ve turned a corner.” It may not be the corner you think. Love will turn 49 years old on Saturday of The Masters, close enough to Champions Tour eligibility to smell the lunch buffets and dream about the three-day, no-cut work weeks. With 20 PGA Tour victories including a PGA Championship and two Players Championships, Love is likely to be a next-ballot Hall of Famer. He was the picture of style and grace in captaining the United States Ryder Cup team last fall at Medinah, getting virtually everything right but the outcome, and less than two weeks ago Love received the Bob Jones award from the USGA, golf’s version of the Kennedy Center honors. By any measure, it is enough for any man without considering his Sea Island, Ga., compound, his legion of friends, his perceptive thinking and the joy that comes through when he talks about his family. But there is more to be had in golf, a final push against time and hopes, chasing trophies Love still believes he can win if the surgery is successful. Love’s doctor, Dr. Regis Haid of Atlanta, told Love there’s a 95 percent chance the surgery will alleviate his pain and numbness for several years. There’s a five percent chance Love will be no worse off than he was. “It had reached the point where it was affecting me on and off the course,” Love said. “It was kind of like Freddie’s (Couples) back. Are we going to bite the bullet and fix it or are we going to play around it? I don’t want to play around it. I want to play well so I wanted to get it fixed.” When Love tried to smash a shot out of a fairway bunker at Bay Hill last spring, the pain — which had come off and on for more than a decade — was bad enough to sideline him for nearly two months. Working with coach Jack Lumpkin at home before lying to Phoenix two weeks ago, Love felt his game coming back. He went to the desert amped with anticipation despite the nagging discomfort. In Thursday’s first round, Love watched playing partners Gary Woodland and Stewart Cink hit 6-irons into the par-3 seventh. Still among the longest hitters in the game when he’s healthy, Love hit a 5-iron and couldn’t summon the strength to reach the green. “That’s it, I’m done,” Love told himself. He signed for 72 in the first round then withdrew. Without a spot in either the upcoming WGC Accenture Match Play Championship or the WGC Cadillac Championship, Love elected to do it now. The best case scenario is Love can play at Bay Hill in mid-March, a long shot, but he expects to give himself a couple of chances to win his way into another Masters. Then comes the RBC Heritage, which he’s won five times, the Wells Fargo Championship in his birthplace of Charlotte (“That’s like a major championship to me,” he said) and The Players. Love isn’t looking at the end of the road, he’s looking for more highway. When he told Steve Stricker of his decision to have surgery, Stricker told his Ryder Cup captain that maybe he should take a cue from the soon-to-be 46-year old, who announced this year he is scaling back to a 10-event schedule. “I want to have a 25-event schedule,” Love said. “I want to play and play as hard as I can for the next three to five years. “It’s like Peyton Manning wanting to get back in the game. He needed to get his neck fixed and when he did, he had a great year. If I wanted to get through one more year to get to the Champions Tour and go dink it around, I could get by. I don’t want to go to the Champions Tour. “Somebody in Phoenix asked me why I would put myself through this. It’s because I love it. Watching my son (Dru) play the Jones Cup (last) weekend, I was hurting and taking painkillers and going to get a CAT scan. “And I was thinking I can’t wait to play again.”


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