Sweet Sawgrass payday for Davis and Cub
Next week, Love III chases
his potential to Augusta
By JEFF CORDES
Express Staff Writer
Hailey’s John Cub Burke had the best seat
in the house Sunday in Florida when Davis Love III shot a stunning final round
64 to win The Players Championship golf tournament by six strokes and collect a
career-best $1.17 million payday.
That’s a little deceiving, because Burke
rarely sat down for four days at The Tournament Players Club at Sawgrass in
Ponte Verde Beach. He walked and walked some more. He analyzed distances and
putting angles and carried a golf bag around the 7,093-yard course for four
18-hole rounds, plus practice rounds.
John Cub Burke in a familiar stance at
Sun Valley Skating Center. Burke, 52, a native of Duluth, Minn., played a
durable left wing for the Sun Valley Suns men’s hockey team for 13 seasons from
1974-87, scoring 188 points, then he coached the Suns for eight more years
through 1994 posting a 122-42-8 record behind the bench.
Burke, in his 17th season as a
professional caddie on the PGA Golf tour, has been Davis Love’s caddie for four
years. Together, they enjoyed their biggest payday. Love won his 16th PGA Tour
event in 18 years, and Burke showed he’s one of the tour’s best bag men.
On an unseasonably cold and blustery
Sunday, Love came from two strokes off the pace to overtake Padraig Harrington
of Ireland and Jay Haas on the Stadium Course. A string of five consecutive
birdies propelled Love to a dominating eight-under-par 64. His final 72-hole
score of 70-67-70-64 weighed in at 17-under-par 271.
"It was phenomenal to watch," said Burke
about Love’s exhilarating finish. Cub jumped on the 6 a.m. flight from
Jacksonville, Fla. Monday morning and was home in Hailey for an afternoon nap.
The winning player’s caddie makes about 10
percent, a standard payoff. The payday was awesome, Burke said, and he considers
himself fortunate. But he added, "You never think about the money when you’re
out there. You think about winning the golf tournament."
Characteristically, Burke minimized his
role in Love’s second triumph of the season—although Love credited Cub
afterwards with expert help in reading the greens. Cub said, "The key to being a
good caddie is showing up on the first hole with a good player."
Love, two weeks away from his 39th
birthday, seems on his way to a monster year and being acknowledged as one of
golf’s all-time greats after wins at Pebble Beach and Sawgrass and a second in
the Honda Classic—in just seven starts.
He jumped four spots to the #3 world
ranking, trailing only Tiger Woods and Ernie Els in the Official World Golf
Ranking. Love ranks second on the 2003 PGA Tour money list with more than $2.78
million, just $386,818 shy of his best season ever in the still-young year.
Adding a second Players Championship title
to the one he won in 1992, Love tied the Sawgrass closing-round record of 64 set
in 1996 by the champion that year, Fred Couples.
Love, who came to Sun Valley to go
snowboarding the day after winning the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am Feb. 9,
acknowledged it was the best round of golf he’s ever played.
His round of golf including a back-nine 31
in tough playing conditions was truly exceptional. In fact, Love’s Sunday
playing partner and friend Couples said, "It’s the best round I’ve ever seen
anyone play—not just Davis, anybody."
Out in 33, in with 31, Love finished with
a Tiger-like six birdies, one eagle and 11 pars.
But the round started unspectacularly. He
missed one of his few greens and saved par on the 392-yard first hole, then sank
what Burke called an awesome 18-footer for par on the par-3, 177-yard third
Love had chances for birdies on the
fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh, all par 4s. "He missed them all," Burke said.
Still hovering around the lead, Love
started his ride into the stratosphere on the par-3, 219-yard eighth hole. He
asked Burke what to hit, and Burke replied with his usual certainty, "It’s just
a four iron."
Burke said, "He hit a low bullet because
of the wind to the back of the green, and it rolled down to the hole. After he
hit it, he said to me, ‘How did you know it was a four?’ Hey, I thought he’d be
in the middle of the green."
Instead, it was a short tap-in.
With laser-like accuracy, Love whipped a
nine-iron to within five feet on the par-5, 583-yard ninth. He crunched an
eight-iron into the par-4 10th and made his third straight birdie putt. On the
par-5, 535-yard 11th, Davis was a little fooled by the wind but took a four-iron
in and two putts.
Love hit a bad tee shot on the short par-4
12th but made a 20-footer for his fifth straight birdie. Burke said, "That was
his second string of five straight birdies in the tournament. He had one in
Friday’s 67. That got him into the hunt."
Making good things out of his rare bad
shots was something Love did well Sunday.
Downwind with a three-wood, Davis yanked
another poor tee shot on the par-5, 507-yard 16th. The ball cleared the trees
and landed in the pine straw with a decent view of the large water hazard
fronting the green. It was a good lie.
Burke said, "It was 198 to the flag, a
no-brainer six-iron. He blistered it." Love’s 15-foot eagle putt eliminated any
more doubts. Burke said, "All we had to do was find land for the final two
holes." And Davis did.
The great final round certainly helped,
but Burke said Love put himself on the road to victory with Saturday’s
struggling two-under-par 70.
"In every tournament you’re going to have
one round where you struggle," said Burke. "Saturday was that kind of day.
Nothing happened for him. But he was patient."
Complicating the situation Saturday was
that Love was playing with Harrington, a notoriously slow player. Love had two
bogeys going out—his final bogeys of the tournament—but carded a solid 34 coming
Burke said, "Davis is a rhythm player. He
plays real fast. I almost wonder sometimes whether Harrington does it on
purpose. At the fourth they warned us about time but never put us on the clock
because of the group ahead."
The upshot of the long day: Love’s par
save on 18 meant he would be playing with Couples Sunday. Couples and Love won a
record four World Cups from 1992-95 and have been as close as any golfers on the
Unfortunately Couples, in contention and
shooting for his first win since 1998, got off to a terrible start Sunday with
five bogeys on the first 10 holes. Burke said, "He was pretty surly for the
first nine holes. Fred wasn’t playing well. He was quiet and pissed off."
Then, after Davis birdied 10 and Fred
bogeyed it, the twosome had a wait on the 11th tee. Burke walked ahead down the
course to do some of his preparations. "When I got back, they told me you could
hear a pin drop on the tee when Davis and Fred were standing there."
Couples, fortunately, birdied 12 and 13
and, in Burke’s words, "started chirping again." He was in good humor for Love’s
stretch drive, creating what Burke called a "great scenario," for Davis to relax
and finish the great round.
Love, comfortable swinging in his blue
Polo rain jacket, didn’t take it off despite the improving weather until his
victory walk down the 18th fairway. "He loves that jacket. I think he’d rather
have his driver stolen than that jacket," joked Couples afterward.
Burke tolerated it. He laughed, "It looks
like a ladies medium. There were times I wanted to rip it off him."
There were times Love and Burke wanted to
look at the leader-board. They tried not to because they didn’t want scores of
other players to change Love’s focus. "I caught myself peeking once or twice. So
did Davis, I think," said Burke.
But Love’s entire journey this year has
been on chasing his own potential and not worrying about anybody else.
Rehabilitated from neck and back problems that plagued him in 2000 and 2001,
Davis has tried to change his mental outlook.
"Davis committed himself this year and
came out more mentally prepared. He didn’t play at all until he was ready, and
that was in early February," said Burke. "He took a two-day course with sports
psychologist Bob Rotella."
Love will take a week off, enjoy his new,
luxurious $1.4 million motor home and then try for a hat trick on America’s
finest courses when he competes in his 14th Masters golf tournament April 10-13.
Burke leaves Sunday to join him.
In the past, Love has praised Burke for
his hard-working attributes on the golf course.
"There are a few really, really good ones
out there, and you can tell who they are," said Love. "They’re the guys you see
walking the course on Mondays, before their player gets there, making sure the
yardage book is right. They keep notes on every round of every tournament on
Burke said Love enters the Masters in his
best frame of mind, ever. "There’s nothing he wants more than a green jacket,"
said Burke. Love has finished second twice at The Masters, but has never won. At
Augusta Tiger Woods will be going for his unprecedented third straight green
There is a personal story that may
motivate Love even more. He will celebrate his 39th birthday on Sunday, April
13—the final day of The Masters. Burke said, "Davis was born on Sunday at
Augusta when his father Davis Love Jr. was in contention at The Masters."
Love’s father was a highly-regarded golf
teacher who died at 53 in a plane crash in 1988. He faded and tied for 34th at
The Masters the day Davis was born, back in 1964. So Love III hopes he has
another great final round in his bag next week.