- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 3, 2003

At the height of the storm that drenched TPC at Avenel yesterday, Davis Love III headed onto the course.

It was indeed an odd sight. With the rain falling in sheets and the rest of this week’s Capital Open field scrambling for the cover of the clubhouse, the PGA Tour’s leading money winner marched from the range to the 10th tee to begin a practice round. It wasn’t so much that he was oblivious to the downpour, his body language simply seemed to say, “So what?”

Sometimes, you just need to play. Sometimes, you just need the normalcy of professional routine. Sometimes, you just need to escape into the fairways-and-greens rhythm of the game.

“It’s good to be out here,” said Love, who is playing in his first event since tragedy came calling on May16.

On that morning three weeks ago, Love found the lifeless body of his brother-in-law, Jeff Knight, crumpled in the driver’s seat of an SUV parked outside the family’s fishing retreat in South Georgia. Knight, who was married to the sister of Love’s wife, Robin, apparently had died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound after the FBI uncovered he had been embezzling money from Love.

More specifics are reported in this week’s issue of Golf World. According to the article, Knight handled an array of travel and business affairs for Love and his family, and Love estimates he stole between $500,000 and $1million from one of Love’s accounts.

What resonated from yesterday’s interview, however, wasn’t a macabre set of tragic details but the manner in which Love addressed the situation. When asked about Knight at Avenel, Love’s response was as graceful as the issue is awkward.

“What [Golf World] is writing is very factual,” Love said. “The only thing I would add is that my brother-in-law was a great guy and very important to our family. My kids, his kids, our whole family, his job was to make our lives easier. He did a lot of good things. … Mentally, he just lost his way.”

According to the Golf World article and the Associated Press, the 37-year-old Knight, a Gulf War veteran, had a serious weight problem and an unhealthy obsession with Year2000-problem scenarios. But he was intellectually stable enough to carefully siphon off a substantial pool of Love’s assets without him noticing.

To an outsider, this familial treason would seem like the ultimate form of betrayal, regardless of the perpetrator’s mental health. But there wasn’t an iota of bitterness in Love’s voice yesterday as he talked about Knight. And there wasn’t even a hint that Love was frustrated by the timing of the tragedy, which interrupted the best start of his exceptional 18-year career.

The 39-year-old Love already has matched his career-best with three victories (Pebble Beach, the Players Championship and MCI Heritage Classic) in just 11 starts this season. For years one of the game’s longest hitters, Love is putting brilliantly this year, ranking second on Tour in the category. He’s already banked nearly $3.8million in prize money. And if not for the form questions raised by this recent family trauma, he would undoubtedly have been one of the favorites to unseat Tiger Woods at next week’s U.S. Open at Olympia Fields (Ill.).

But no such thought seemed lurking beneath Love’s stoic exterior yesterday. The only emotion present was sadness.

“It’s a lot like when my dad was killed [in a 1988 plane crash],” Love said. “I didn’t just lose a father, I lost a friend. With Jeff it’s similar. Our families did a lot of things together. He was a good friend. … My son asked the best question after about 10 days: ‘When is it going to go back to normal?’ Well, it’s not. It’s going to be a new normal. We just have to go day by day, keep praying, being strong, getting through it. … You’re not going to get over it, but you have to go do your job.”

For Love, who skipped last week’s Memorial, that meant coming to the Capital Open, to which he committed late on Friday. He knows it’s going to be a long week. Not only is he the event’s headliner as the top-ranked player (No.3) in the 156-man field, now he must deal with another layer of questions and condolences from media, fellow players and fans.

“The first week back after my dad passed away, everyone had to say something, had to come up and say their thing,” Love said. “I need to talk to my friends, and the majority of my friends are out here. This is family out here, players, caddies, everybody is family. … This is part of the process for me, moving forward. The family at home are the ones we’re thinking about most. I can play golf.”

At times during Love’s career, there have been those who have questioned his intestinal fortitude. His critics have pointed to the fact that his mountain of talent has yielded just one major title (1997 PGA Championship) and wondered if there was something missing in the killer-instinct department. After all, Love is a country club kid who seems, at least at first blush, more like a pouter than a puncher.

But yesterday, as he strode resolutely onto the layout with far more than a few raindrops bearing down on him, it was impossible to think of Love as weak in any way. Sure, he has a soft spot in his soul. And perhaps it has cost him the odd victory in his Tour career. But it certainly has earned him the title of gentleman in life’s ultimate contest.

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