Friday, October 1, 2010

A Q&A with Davis Love III


McGladrey recently sat down with Davis Love III, assistant captain of the U.S. Ryder Cup team, member of Team McGladrey and host of The McGladrey Classic, to discuss what makes teams successful.

McGladrey: Davis, golf is typically an individual sport, but the Ryder Cup is such a different form of competition where team dynamics and strategy are so important. What are your thoughts about assembling and leading successful teams?

Davis Love III: For the Ryder Cup, we’re constantly looking at our players — what are each individual’s strengths, what are their personalities, and how can we put them together to give them confidence because they’re so excited about their partner and their partners on the team. Steve Stricker’s game is completely different from Tiger Woods’, but if we put those two together, we’ve seen in the past that they both excel. Other times you get a player feeling confident by putting him in a team with someone similar, because they’ll be comfortable around each other.

We’re fortunate this time that we don’t have any real issues with the guys on our team. It’s easy to match people up. We have a lot of guys that are very flexible. You want to pick guys who can play, or can be a part of any combination of teams within the team. You don’t want to pick the guy who only can play with one other guy or only can play with this one type of player, because then it limits your flexibility as a team. So we picked veterans. We picked a rookie. We picked guys that we felt we could plug into a bunch of different roles, with broad strengths, from the number one player in the world all the way down to rookie enthusiasm.

McGladrey: What about Team McGladrey member Zach Johnson, who was selected as a Captain’s pick?

Davis Love III: When we looked at the eight players on the team, we knew right away who we would pick to make our team of 12, and one of those players was obviously Zach. He’s one of the straightest drivers, one of the best putters. Zach has been one of the most consistent players over the last five or six years on the TOUR. And when you’re picking, it comes down to: who do you want on the last green, putting a putt to win the Ryder Cup for you? Who do you trust to go through their routine, to put aside all the goals and expectations and dreams of fans and the country and the Ryder Cup? Who can go through their routine and knock a putt in? And one of those guys is Zach Johnson. He’s so disciplined with his routine, with the way he approaches the game, with the way he and his caddie work together, that nothing, even the pressure of the Ryder Cup, is going to knock him off of that.

McGladrey: One of the biggest responsibilities of the captain is to pick who plays and when. What goes into those kinds of strategic decisions?

Davis Love III: I think the difficult thing is not who gets to play, it’s who doesn’t get to play. So, you have to take that into account when you’re making your pairings. The worst thing would be to not be able to fit a guy in, and all of a sudden on Saturday afternoon he hasn’t played and then the pressure’s on because he’s only got one shot at it for singles.

McGladrey: Why do you think some individuals perform at a higher level when they’re part of a team?

Davis Love III: Certainly some players do better in a team environment. It seems like over the last six or seven Ryder Cups, there have been some European players who’ve excelled beyond what you would expect them to do, especially putting-wise. Monty has always putted great in Ryder Cups; Sergio has chipped in a lot in Ryder Cups. You’ve had young rookies come onto the Ryder Cup teams for Europe and just make more putts than they’ve ever made in their careers. I think it’s a confidence thing. They get in with a team, and they’re not playing as individuals anymore. They’re playing as a team. They’re excited to play for their country. They’ve seen their country’s flags go up in the opening ceremonies, and there’s a burst of confidence. And that’s what we’re trying to capture before we get to the Ryder Cup — what is it that pulls these 12 guys together and makes them all play better than they normally play? It’s easy to get more excited. It’s easy to get more nervous. It’s easy to try harder, but it’s not easy to bond as a group and to excel because you’re all working toward the same goal.

McGladrey: You’ve talked a bit about leadership. What makes an effective leader?

Davis Love III: I’ve played for 12 different captains — actually 13, if you count the Walker
Cup — and they’ve almost all done it differently. It always comes down to the performance of the players. The captain can lay out a battle plan. The captain can make the pairings. The captain can be the leader, but ultimately in any team, an army or business team, it comes down them having faith in their leader and then executing their game plan.

We have to instill in our team that the captain has a game plan, and if you stick with it, we will win.

And I’d add that a lot has to do with instilling confidence. When Ben Crenshaw’s team won, we were way behind until the last day. But he kept saying, “I have confidence in you guys. You don’t understand, something exciting is going to happen on the 17th green.”

Well, it did. Justin Leonard made an unbelievable putt on the 17th green, and we won. But we kept gunning for it because our captain kept saying, “I think something great is going to happen,” and it finally did. And that’s all you can ask. I think that’s the biggest thing a captain can do is just keep telling his team, “This is the plan, let’s just stick with it, and it will eventually work.”