In his final hours, with death closing in, Harvey Penick joined much of the golf world on Sunday in pulling for Davis Love III to qualify for the Masters. That morning at his home in Austin, Texas, the sage golf instructor had heard from Tom Kite that Love was leading the Freeport-McMoRan Classic in New Orleans. That pleased the 90-year-old Penick immensely. With what strength he had left, he lifted his feeble hands and clapped twice. Seven hours later, he died.
All of this was relayed to Love at English Turn Golf & Country Club just after he had survived a bogey-bogey finish and won a playoff against Mike Heinen. While Love was elated to have earned a Masters exemption, he was saddened to learn that a cornerstone of his life had passed away. His father, Davis Love Jr., had idolized Penick, who was influential in the development of Love Jr. as one of America's foremost golf teachers.
"I just kind of grew up with everything in The Little Red Book" Love said Sunday night while flying home to Sea Island, Ga. "He was just a part of my dad. I kind of feel like the last bit of my dad is gone now."
When Davis Love Jr. died in a plane crash in 1988, it was Kite who took over as Love Ill's unofficial mentor, helping shepherd his career. After Love missed the cut in the Las Vegas Invitational last October and thus failed to finish in the top 30 on the money list, which would have given him exemptions to the Masters and the U.S. Open, Kite could fully relate to the pressure Love was under. In 1992, Kite had been in exactly the same circumstances, needing a victory in New Orleans to qualify for the Masters. Kite finished tied for 12th and did not make the trip to Augusta. "There's nobody more proud of Davis than I am," Kite said Sunday.
Love's victory, his first on the PGA Tour in 17 months, could have broader implications than just a Masters berth. Though Love has won The Players Championship and eight other PGA Tour events in his 10-year career, his performance in major championships has been lackluster for a player of such immense talent. In 21 Grand Slam appearances, Love has missed four cuts and finished no better than 11th, in the 1991 U.S. Open. Last year he shot 76-78 at Augusta and missed the cut.
"This is what Davis Love needed," says Butch Harmon, the teaching pro from Houston, who works with Greg Norman. " Davis Love needed to prove to Davis Love that he could do it with the pressure on."
Harmon had delivered a pivotal and honest talk to Love last October, just after the Las Vegas Invitational. "He was distraught," Harmon recalls. "I told him to get back to work, that he was too good a player to be where he was. I told him he had gotten lazy. I really did lay a lot of stuff on the line."
Love took Harmon's words to heart. In February he led the AT&T Pro-Am after the opening round, but he finished tied for third. In March he led the Doral-Ryder Open after two rounds, but he didn't break 70 on the weekend and tied for fourth. He was two shots behind Loren Roberts at the halfway point of the Nestle Invitational last month, but he closed with a pair of 73s to finish 16th. Two weeks ago at The Players Championship, he was tied for the lead after 70 holes, but he hit a nine-iron over the 17th green, made double bogey and tied for sixth.
Love, who showed resiliency through all of those disappointments, stole a page from Penick's Little Red Book, taking "dead aim" at the Masters. "I just never let it cross my mind that I wasn't going to win and get to Augusta," Love said Sunday evening. "Today I kept telling myself, 'You're going to win the tournament. You're going to go to the Masters.' I just don't like to be left out."