Dr. Ralph Mann, a former Olympic hurdler with a doctorate in biomechanics, considers Davis's swing a scientific marvel. Working out of his laboratory at the Jack Nicklaus Academy of Golf, in Orlando, Fla., Mann has filmed, videotaped and computerized the swings of 55 touring pros to create a moving stick-figure model that is the closest thing in software to the perfect golf swing. Mann's model, which he can adjust to fit anyone's dimensions, is programmed to make movements that are more conducive to producing accurate shots than ones that simply travel a long way. Not surprisingly, the player who most closely matches the model is Nicklaus. Says Mann, "If distance were the ideal, Davis would probably be the model."
Love starts his swing with a stance that is slightly wider than the model's. The wider stance gives him a base that will better withstand the stress from the speed he will generate. On the back-swing, Love employs a dramatically full turn. His left arm remains completely extended all the way to the top, with relatively little wrist cock. His arc is by far the widest Mann has ever recorded.
Now the fun begins. Love kicks into his forward swing by rotating his hips and shoulders with tremendous speed toward the target, his arms lagging behind. All accomplished players negotiate this move, sometimes referred to as "loading" the club, but no Tour pro harnesses as much power as Love. By pulling hard with his arms, Love actually increases his wrist cock as he starts down, achieving a "downcock" as dramatic as any player's since Ben Hogan.
To unleash the club head, Love must apply a braking action to the rotation of his hips. Love's talent and training take over here. If the hips slow too soon, the shoulders will overrotate, "come over the ball," and cause the shot to go left. If the brakes are applied too late, the hands will be "blocked out," and the ball will go right. All this is happening in milliseconds, and even a slight mistake in timing can send a Love drive two fairways over.
"The human body isn't built to handle the kind of speed Davis generates," says Mann. It's Love's gift that he can. When he cracks the whip just right, the club head of his driver is traveling at 125 miles per hour at impact, more than 10 miles per hour faster than any swing Mann has measured. Under normal conditions, and with a square hit, such club head speed will launch a 300-yard drive.
The question all this raises, of course, is, "So what?" The woods, as they say, are full of long hitters. Love can hit the ball into next week, but that's often not good enough to take him to the end of the one he's playing in. Last year he missed the cut nine times in 31 official starts. Despite all of the second-shot wedges he hit on par 4s, Love barely averaged hitting 11 greens a round in regulation. "That's embarrassingly terrible," he says. With a short game still too underdeveloped to bail him out consistently, Love did well to end up 77th on the 1986 money list, with $113,245. But he did finish second to Brian Claar in the balloting for Rookie of the Year. Love has won $30,814 and has made six cuts in eight starts this year. He tied for 10th in last week's Bay Hill Classic.
Love thinks that his whole game needs work, and as it improves, his length will become his greatest strength. "First of all," he says, "my length is an advantage on the golf course. Second, it can help me financially. Third, it can ruin my career if I don't think about it right."
Love gives every indication that he thinks about it right. On the 14 driving holes on a regulation course. Love rarely pulls out his driver more than five times. He will most often choose the one-iron, reasoning that once he is in the fairway on a hole, his length will still allow him to hit a more lofted club to the green than most other players, even if they used a driver off the tee.
When Love shuns his driver he often hears groans from galleries who want him to try to bomb the course into submission. "A noisy crowd is the best thing for me," he says. "When they start saying, 'Kill it,' that's when I remember to put a nice easy swing on it." This year Love is working on shortening his back-swing and minimizing the play in his wrists at the beginning of his forward swing. He estimates the change will cost him about eight yards in distance with his driver, but it might save him as much as a stroke off of last year's mediocre 72.25-shots-per-round scoring average. "I'll still be able to do all the damage I need to do," he says.
B.F. Skinner couldn't have improved upon the golfing environment Love grew up in. Dubbed "Trip" as an infant. Love learned how to crawl on a living room floor that was strewn with his father's putters, wedges and dog-eared books on golf instruction. Love was hitting golf balls at 18 months of age when the family left Charlotte for Atlanta, and a home behind the 2nd green at the Atlanta Country Club. By the time he was five, he had a cut-down set of junior clubs that fit just right into one of those wastebaskets made to resemble a golf bag. During his frequent excursions to tournaments and clinics with his father, young Davis got his hair tousled by the likes of Sam Snead and Paul Runyan. As an eighth-grader, he would open his textbook in class like the other students, but his often had a golf book hidden inside it.