Davis Love III sounds like a name that should belong to a spy in a Robert Ludlum novel, but there's nothing surreptitious about the way this 22-year-old from Georgia by way of the University of North Carolina can hit a golf ball.

Although he looks smooth doing it, Love hits the ball a long way. His average driving distance, 283.3 yards, leads the 1986 PGA Tour.

Love was on the practice tee yesterday at Congressional, preparing for the Kemper Open, which starts Thursday. Given his distance, you half expected to see a Hulk Hogan type step up and knock the covers off all those dimpled balls.

"Some people get excited," Love said, "but I'd rather be playing good than driving long."

Love is 6 feet 3, but he wraps only 175 pounds around the frame. The power for his drives, which occasionally have approximated 400 yards, comes from long arms that guide a swing that is smooth and slow coming through the ball. "Just a big arc and a sound fundamental swing," he said.

Love is a rookie on the tour. With a year of college eligibility left, he departed Chapel Hill, where he majored in English. "I'd rather read things they don't teach, like Stephen King and John D. MacDonald," he said. "If they had a class on Robert Ludlum, I'd love it."

Under the blond hair is enough intelligence to know that it isn't how far you hit the shot, but how few you hit.

"There's a lot of big hitters who aren't on the tour because they can't get the ball in the hole," Love said after his practice yesterday, a session that involved more time at the green than at the range. "Hitting long isn't the key. Getting it around the green and in the hole is."

Davis Love II, who teaches golf at Sea Island Golf Club in Georgia, discussed with his son the problem of overhitting.

"It's a big distraction and it hurts a lot of golfers," Love the younger said. "One thing my dad stressed before I started on the tour was not to get caught up in hitting long just to please the gallery or somebody you're playing with. Just play naturally."

Love is 92nd on the money list with $37,137, after pocketing $3,628 at Jack Nicklaus' Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio, over the weekend. His goals include being rookie of the year and making the top 10 on the money list.

And he gets a little extra cash because he's known as a big hitter.

"I may get invited to a pro-am and get three times what some other rookies are getting," Love said. "The two things people like to watch are bunker shots and long drives, because those are the things amateurs have the most trouble with. But those are the two things we don't pay attention to. I mean, we practice bunker shots, but I know, and everybody out here knows, that just because you hit the farthest doesn't mean you'll win."

Although he would prefer to be known for his all-around game, Love realizes people are interested, so he doesn't mind chatting about the big swing. The trick is not listening to himself.

"I walk a fine line," he said. "I don't mind talking about it because people think it's important and it's a way for people to get to know me. But I have to try not to listen to what I'm saying. I just have to play naturally. It's weird."