There are people who play their sport, and do it well, and then there are people who are simply just great athletes. Put Laura Davies in that latter category. Sure, she’s won 20 LPGA events, including four majors, a record 45 times on the Ladies European Tour, collected 87 trophies worldwide and won both the Senior LPGA Championship and the U.S. Senior Women’s Open this year. But it is the way Dame Laura goes about her business that makes her a legend.
Davies doesn’t like to practice; she hits the ball about as hard as anyone who has ever played the women’s game; and the word “lay-up” is not in her lexicon. That’s part of what makes her a fan favorite. The other part is that athlete thing. I’ve seen Davies play soccer and tennis as well as golf and trust me, you don’t want to take her on in either. And if you doubt her, she’ll challenge you to a bet, another of her favorite activities.
At the age of 55, Davies is adding to her legacy. Not only did she win the only two senior majors that exist – the U.S. Senior Women’s Open and the Senior LPGA Championship – but she was T-2 this year in the Bank of Hope Founders Cup on the LPGA with a 63-69 on the weekend that was bettered only by Inbee Park, who on Sunday made every putt she looked at. Not bad for someone nearly a decade the senior of the oldest winner in LPGA history, Beth Daniel at 46.
“If I'd have won in Phoenix, I'd now only be one away, which would be every week you'd have a crack at it,” Davies says about having 25 of the 27 points needed to gain entry to the LPGA Hall of Fame. “I'd like to get in that position so that you had a chance every week to do that. That's something I've always wanted to do. That's why I'm probably here still trying. But it's a tough call now. You got the players like Ariya [Jutanugarn] and all the other girls that are playing unbelievably good golf. Winning a tournament is not an easy thing now.”
While some fans scratch their heads over why Davies is not in the LPGA Hall of Fame, she understands and is a fan of the process.
“Oh, I love it,” she says about the points system for qualifying. “Anything you vote on, I'm not a big fan of. It's judges. I lose interest in that quickly. But the LPGA Hall of Fame is the hardest Hall of Fame, I think, probably to get in because it's completely performance related. Twenty-seven points is the magic number, and if you don't get it, you're not in the Hall of Fame, and that's fair enough. I like that.”
The first time I covered a victory by Davies was the 1996 LPGA Championship, the event that is now the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. It was cold, wet and windy that week at DuPont Country Club in Wilmington, Del., and Laura would rip the eraser off a golf pencil and use it was a tee, playing the ball high off her front foot and blasting drives to places no one else in the field could reach in their wildest dreams.
At The Pete Dye Course at French Lick in mid-October this year, she’d chop up a tuft of dirt on the tee box, place her ball on it and let it rip with her driver. On some holes, she’d smash her 2-iron 240 yards off the tee. When she came to the last hole of this year’s Senior LPGA with a three-stroke lead, she shunned playing it safe by hitting that 2-iron and ripped her driver down the left side of the fairway, putting her position for a birdie on the par-5 that gave her a four stroke victory.
In July at historic Chicago Golf Club, Davies won by 10 strokes despite being pressured by such LPGA stars as Juli Inkster, Danielle Ammaccapane and Liselotte Neumann as well as LET stalwart Trish Johnson Johnson. At French Lick, Davies held off the same crowd plus Helen Alfredsson, Michele Redman and Jane Crafter.
Everything about Davies’ game screams about her athletic gifts. In an era of coaches and psychologists, Davies defies the cookie-cutter conformity and does it her way. Her move off the ball begins more with her body than her hands as she rocks into her backswing. A similar move initiates the downswing and generates enormous power. Around the green she has the soft hands of a surgeon and the imagination of an artist.
At the 2004 Chick-fil-A Charity Championship near Atlanta, Sunday greeted players with a dreary, rainy morning. Dame Laura went to the practice range, stood under her umbrella and watched players hit balls for 20 minutes. Then she went to the practice green, stood under her umbrella and watched players putt for 20 minutes. When it was time to play, she teed it up and shot 68 – without ever having hit a ball.
“I don’t practice when it’s nice why would I hit balls in the rain?” she said later. And on another occasion, when she struggled on the greens, she was asked if she was going to practice her putting. “Why would I practice missing?” she said. “It’s either there or it’s not.” Safe to say Dame Laura is the definition of a feel player. There is nothing technically obsessed about her game.
It is likely her natural gifts explain her longevity, as does the fact that she loves what she does. When Davies, a native of Coventry, England, joined the LPGA in 1992, only three of the current top-10 in the Rolex Rankings were alive – Inbee Park (4 years old), Shanshan Feng (3) and So Yeon Ryu (2). The other seven, including No. 1 Sung Hyun Park and No. 2 Ariya Jutanugarn, along with Minjee Lee, Lexi Thompson, Georgia Hall, Brooke Henderson and Sei Young Kim were yet to be born.
Davies, who has a shy, almost uneasy manner around strangers but bursts into a radiant smile and offers keen insights when comfortable, last won on the LPGA at the 2001 Wegmans Rochester International. In 2010, the year she turned 47, Dame Laura won five times on the LET in five different countries on three continents. She is the only player, male or female, to win on five continents in the same year.
Seven times, Davies topped the LET money list and in 1994 she became the first non-American to lead the LPGA in money earned. In 1996, Davies was the LPGA Rolex Player of the Year. The year 2015 was special for Davies as she was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame, became one of the first female members of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club at St. Andrews and was made Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire for her services to golf.
A loyal supporter of Liverpool FC, Davies played six minutes in a minor league men’s soccer game for the Myrtle Beach Seadawgs in 1997. She has also been known to watch Liverpool and the English national team on her smart phone while on the golf course, a practice that has garnered her a fine or two.
Davies still believes she has a chance to get those two points she needs for the Hall of Fame and her success this year at the Founders Cup as well as the U.S. Senior Women’s Open and the Senior LPGA Championship bolsters that belief.
“Winning is winning,” she says. “You see people like Steve Stricker and Freddie Couples, when they play the Masters and the PGA Tour events, they go from the Seniors and winning regularly, and their confidence transfers over, and that's why I think they do quite well on the regular tour, and Colin Montgomerie. You build up a bit of momentum. It can't do anything but fill you full of confidence.”
This much is clear: Davies is still having fun playing golf; she still possesses considerable skills and the fans still enjoy watching her play. While Dame Laura is the Queen of Senior Golf she also, in her heart of hearts, believes she has another LPGA win or two in her. That’s just part of what makes her one of the most compelling players in all of golf.