Originally created 04/15/04

Love happier on, off course



HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. -- Davis Love III's life off the course is apparently just fine.

The MCI Heritage's defending champion says his wife, Robin, threw him a surprise party Tuesday night for his 40th birthday and arranged for the Discovery Channel's "American Chopper" guys - Paul Teutel Sr. and Jr. - to build him a custom bike as a present.

The joyous gathering was vastly different than at times during the Loves' troubled 2003. The couple endured the suicide of Robin's brother and Davis' operations manager, Jeffrey Knight; and continual whispers about their marriage. The strain was so great last summer that a tearful Love dedicated his fourth win of the year at The International to his wife in a greenside interview on CBS.

"Contrary to popular rumor," he said to stunned reporters after last August's victory, "I'm not getting divorced and we are not unhappy and we're doing very, very well at home."

Love acknowledged Wednesday, "it was kind of an up and down year" with Knight's death and dealing with the marital rumors. Then again, Harbour Town has always been a remarkably special spot for Love.

He has won this tournament five times, including last year's amazing comeback where he chipped in on the 72nd hole Sunday from 66 feet away to force a playoff. Then Love hit the flagstick in front of the famous lighthouse on the fourth extra hole to put away Woody Austin.

Robin Love made this week memorable before her husband ever struck a shot.

Love knew they would be here for the landmark birthday and requested a quiet dinner at one of his favorite island restaurants. When the couple arrived, however, Love spotted "about 15 courtesy cars, Frank Lickliter's Hummer, my mom's car," he said. "I knew something was up."

The group included CBS Sports announcer Jim Nantz and PGA Tour stars Ernie Els and Justin Leonard. But Love said he was blown away when the Teutels, who build custom machines out of their Orange County Choppers shop, told him about Robin's gift.

Love had been a fan of the show the past few years.

"I told them they were probably the most famous guys in the room," Love said.

He hit golf balls on the Harbour Town range with the Teutels before teeing off in Wednesday's pro-am. The tournament starts Thursday.

A custom chopper was something Love had always thought "would be fun to do, but I never picked up the phone to do it."

When Robin called, the Teutels figured at first Love's bike might make a short spot on one TV episode. But Love said they told him as they thought about it, the builders wanted to have more fun with it and plan to show its creation in detail.

Love thinks he may get the finished machine by the Buick Classic at Westchester Country Club in early June. "We'll see," he said.

Right now, Love's game might be equal to his good mood.

He overcame a first-day 75 at the Masters to tie for sixth at 2-under 286, seven shots behind champion Phil Mickelson. While Love couldn't get himself closer to the top, he liked the way he struck the ball. When he feels that good at Augusta National, it typically means big things at Harbour Town.

Love won here in 1987, 1990, 1991, 1998 and a year ago. He's far and away the event's leading money winner at more than $2.1 million - nearly three times as much as second-place Glen Day at $766,155.

"I thought I was going to have a quiet start to my Heritage," Love said. "I'm still kind of in shock."