The 57-year-old Charlotte native and World Golf Hall of Famer also has been an assistant on three Presidents Cup and two Ryder Cup teams, including the one that trounced the Europeans last weekend at Whistling Straits.
Love calls the most recent U.S. Team, which included eight of the top 10 players in the world and likely will form the nucleus of his team at Quail Hollow – and many more American squads to come, “really, really confident.” The average age of the Americans was 29.1, with Dustin Johnson, at 37, the old man of the team.
“These guys just think they’re going to win every time they go play,” Love said. “You’ve probably been around Patrick Cantlay a little bit; he’s a very confident young man. And so is Dustin. And so is (Collin) Morikawa. He’s very quiet, but he’s a quiet 50-year-old. He’s just so steady and so good.”
Love credited the experience gained in junior golf, as well as exceptional coaching and training, with the poise and determination he saw on offer last week. He said he was surprised by how many people the players had on their personal support teams.
“Even though it was the pandemic, I saw more coaches at a Ryder Cup than I’ve ever seen,” Love noted. “We didn’t have that in 1993. Nobody had a coach with him. Nobody had a trainer with them. Nobody even knew what a bodywork person was. We had eight or nine people at the hotel or at the club taking care of guys. So, it’s a different generation.”
To Stricker’s credit, Love said, he noticed that shift and made accommodations for it. Formal dinners and rah-rah speeches were kept to a minimum – “Maybe it makes them nervous,” Love reasoned — so the players could keep to a more normal schedule. Forget the epic ping-pong battles of yore. These guys wanted to rest so they could be at their best the next day.
“I mean, literally one night there was only X-Man (Xander Schauffle) and Brooks (Koepka) still up,” Love noted. “One night it was Brooks who was the only one up, working out.
“And Dustin, Sunday morning, now he’s down there at 6:30 and he’s bopping around and he goes, ‘Hey, I was in bed at nine o’clock.’ People wouldn’t believe that — if you would see Dustin Johnson, the celebrity, you would think, oh, it’s party, party, party, party, party. He does … on Sunday.”
In a word, Love was impressed by the discipline he saw on the team. He remembers Cantlay coming to him and telling him he’d finished practicing and working out, but he needed to get his bodywork – a form of therapy that helps realign and reposition the body – done. That meant he’d be 45 minutes late for dinner.
“That’s how disciplined they are,” Love said.
Cantlay also needed three or four hours to warm up and prepare for a match. That meant 7:05 a.m. tee times were a non-starter.
“It’s just different, and Steve just had it dialed in,” Love said. “Freddie and I are just sitting back, holy cow, we’re old. They do it differently than we did.
“So, we have to adapt to give them what they need to get ready.”
Often, team meetings, if you will, were held in a room upstairs at the Whistling Straits clubhouse while they waited for the traffic to thin. Stricker would tell the players who was practicing together and what format to play. Grab dinner in the team room and you could go to bed.
“I remember (Tom) Watson coming in late one night when we were playing Pass the Pigs and Jenga and all the games that somebody brought in ‘93 and he goes, ‘You guys have to go to bed. You have to play golf tomorrow,’” Love laughed. “This is the opposite with these guys like, where is everybody? We had this big, gorgeous team room and I’d walk in and go, where is everybody?
“And we knew they weren’t anywhere else because you couldn’t go anywhere else. They weren’t allowed to go. … One night, they had a family thing of people that were in the bubble. And they got to go to the little restaurant, right beside the parking garage, The Horse & Plow and say hi to their parents. And that was it, the only thing they were allowed to do.
“It was a weird Ryder Cup for the veterans like us. Where’s the pomp and circumstance? But it was also weird that they were always ready to go — and they played unbelievable.”
Love said he knew after the U.S. won the first session, 3-1, that the Americans would retake the Ryder Cup. It wasn’t at all like three years ago in Paris when the U.S. took the opening Four-balls by a similar margin but didn’t win a Foursomes match in the afternoon.
“We had issues,” Love said of Paris. “We were jumbling pairings in afternoon. We didn’t know what we were going to do for Saturday. You know, Phil and Tiger weren’t playing good, and Patrick was not playing great. We didn’t know what was going on.
“This team — all you had to do is shoot them to their tee times and they were going to roll.”
Love said there will be debriefings in the coming months, as has been the case with every U.S. Team event since the task force was formed, to zero in on what worked and what didn’t. He plans to work on strengthening his relationships with some of the younger Americans – there were six rookies, for example, on this year’s team.
“I got to know Patrick Cantlay so well, and I got to know X-Man a lot better,” Love said. “Morikawa, I don’t know. It’s a hard egg to crack in one week. He’s still a young, shy kid, even though he’s a major champion. So, I’ve got some work to do on getting to know guys, but Brooks and the Dustin and those guys — they’re tired of me.”