Honesty was labor of Love


AUGUSTA, Ga. -- How Davis Love III arrived at the Masters tournament, in reality the last player in the door, restores confidence in the age-old virtue mothers used to teach and preach: "To thine own self be true."

Hopefully such gems of wisdom still fall on receptive ears. Love's honesty on the course deprived him of a possible chance to qualify for the Masters as one of the top 30 money-winners on the PGA Tour in 1994.

It put him in a tenuous position. He had to find another way to make the party and, with time running out, took the challenge to win last week in New Orleans. Otherwise, he would have been counted among the Masters missing when the 59th annual classic began today at Augusta National Golf Club.

This past Sunday, he won the final event that would permit him to play in this 1995 renewal of one of golf's most revered competitions, an elite gathering that features most of the world's outstanding golfers. Love should be included and is.

Maybe some higher power was at work when Love prevailed in what used to be known as the New Orleans Open, now identified by the corporate name of the Freeport-McMoRan Classic.

Without that victory, he would be back home in Sea Island, Ga., waiting out a resumption of the regular tour next week at Hilton Head, S.C.

The clock was racing and only one chance remained for Love to earn an opportunity to join the Masters field this year. He took all his best shots and never looked back.

Love has now accounted for nine wins in as many professional seasons. No apology is needed but he's not entirely fulfilling the immense abilities and promise he brought with him. No major, such as a Masters or an Open, is on his resume, but at age 31 there's still a lot of golf to be played.

It may not have been necessary for Love to wait for the visit to New Orleans except for an unusual incident that occurred last July in the Motorola Western Open, when he blew the whistle against himself.

He still isn't sure if he was in error, but his principles, and those of golf, would not accept any self-compromise. While putting on the 14th hole he believes he violated a ball-marking rule. Refusing to give himself the benefit of any doubt, he voluntarily assessed a two-shot penalty.

It meant that he ultimately missed making the cut for the final two rounds by a mere stroke. Had he not been the victim of what was an alleged mental error, it's likely he would have played the entire tournament and made enough money to have assured an earlier route to the Masters.

With no other alternative, he had to come in the hard way by winning a PGA Tour title, which provided a belated entry, just days before the Masters starting bell sounded.

"I'm still not sure what transpired, but if I hadn't called the penalty, the uncertainty would have remained in my mind and continually bothered me," he explained. "Then had I been fortunate enough to win the Masters the victory would have been tarnished."

As much as every golfer covets the prestige of being in the Masters, it was the kind of a sin Love's integrity wouldn't permit him to live with. He admits his conscience, under such circumstances, would have put him in a state of perpetual doubt the rest of his life.

Love had putted to within two feet of the hole, but his ball was in the line of playing rival Tom Watson. He marked it one putter head to the right so as not to interfere with the upcoming putt.

Watson dropped it for a birdie and Love quickly tapped his putt in the hole. It wasn't until the next tee that he wondered if he had returned the ball to its original spot.

"I asked my caddy. He didn't know because he said he was raking a bunker and wasn't watching. I told myself that if I wasn't sure, then I probably didn't put the ball back in the correct location. So I took the penalty and have no regrets."

In any sport but golf, breaking rules or finding a loophole is considered gamesmanship. You get away with as much as you can unless a game official catches you in the act.

Davis Love III, the leading driver on the tour last year with an average of 283.8 yards on his tee shots, obviously stands for something more than his immense talent. It's about ethics, honesty of purpose and upholding the honor of the game.

Scores to the contrary, enough can't be said for that.


What: 59th Masters

When: Today through Sunday

Where: Augusta National Golf Club, Augusta, Ga.

Course: Par 72, 6925 yards

The field: Includes former champions Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and defending champ Jose-Maria Olazabal.

TV: USA (today-tomorrow, 4-6:30 p.m.), CBS (Saturday, 3:30-6 p.m.; Sunday, 4-7 p.m.)

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