Laura Davies: She has still got drive despite tour transformation
Britain's four-times major winner is just shy of turning 50 and has seen the world of women's golf change dramatically – yet her desire is as fierce as ever, she tells Brian Viner
Brian Viner swapped London for the Herefordshire countryside, and his column ‘Country Life’ documents his attempts to chase the rural idyll. Chiefly a sports writer, he pens a weekly sports column and interview for the paper. He is the author of 'Ali, Pele, Lillee and Me: A Personal Odyssey Through the Sporting Seventies'.
Tuesday 04 December 2012
A 14-year-old amateur golfer from Bangalore, Aditi Ashok, stole the headlines on the opening day of the Hero Women's Indian Open in New Delhi last week. Young Ashok shot a brilliant 69 and finished the day with a share of the lead. But just two shots back – although not mentioned at all in the media coverage – was a woman fully 35 years Ashok's senior.
Yes, Laura Davies is still going strong, still thumping the ball a country mile, and still hanging out with the caddies, which helps her cope with a women's tour that has changed dramatically since she herself burst on to the scene in 1985. "The tour has changed completely," she says. "The Korean girls all travel with their families. They all have coaches, nutritionists, fitness trainers. There's not much locker-room camaraderie any more. But because I spend all my time with the caddies, I have the same fun that I've always had."
Davies will turn 50 next October, and very few of her contemporaries are still lugging themselves around the world like she is. Moreover, she lugs herself and her caddie in economy, refusing to pay for business-class flights. "If someone else is paying then it's nice to be in the pointy end of the plane," she says. "But otherwise, when you land you think, 'What a waste of money that was'. Depending on where you're playing, you've often got to finish in the top 10 of a tournament to break even."
In New Delhi she finished seventh, and promptly packed for the Gulf, where she plays in the Dubai Ladies Masters, which begins today. "I'll carry on as long as I think I can win," she says. "And right now, my only thought on the first tee at the start of a tournament is winning. My ball-striking is as consistent as it's ever been. If I could just hole a few putts..."
It is the perennial lament of the old-timer; that the putts won't drop like they once did. And Davies, last time she looked, had dropped to 170-odd in the world rankings. "But the way they work out the rankings is very strange," she says. "I won five times in 2010 and moved up a ridiculously small amount. It's very biased towards the Japanese tour and the LPGA [US] tour. European players get a raw deal. But I only have myself to blame. My highest finish in America this year is 17th."
Davies' career record over there, however, is truly impressive. She has won 20 LPGA events down the years, was the first non-American to finish top of the LPGA money list, and all four of her major championship victories have been Stateside.
It is a curious anomaly that in the British Women's Open she has never finished higher than eighth, but even so, she is comfortably the most accomplished female player Britain has produced, at least since Joyce Wethered in the 1920s. And such is her longevity that she has played in every single Solheim Cup, the biennial tournament between Europe and the US, since the contest began in 1990.
So, there is not much room in her locker for regrets, although one of them concerns her sole appearance in a men's European Tour event, the ANZ Championship in Australia in 2004. She missed the cut and finished second-last, but feels now that the invitation came at the wrong time.
"I'd just had 10 weeks off and my first tournament back was a men's event. It wasn't ideal. But I enjoyed the experience. I'm sure there were a few saying I'd taken someone else's spot, although there was no face-to-face hostility. I played with Jean Van de Velde, who was very nice to me. But, if it had come when I was No 1 in the world between 1992 and 1997, playing at my absolute best, confidence through the roof, then who knows? I'm not saying I would have won or even made the cut, but I'd have been full of confidence."
There is less chance now of a top female player making an impact on a men's tournament, she thinks, because equipment changes have favoured the men, with their extra strength. And there is, she adds, another growing disparity between the women's game and the men's. "The money wasn't vastly different when I started. Now they're playing for $7m [£4.35m] or $8m a week, and we're playing for $1.5m, $1.8m."
The $9m that she has accumulated in career prize-money would be upwards of $40m, she reckons, if she were Larry rather than Laura. "I'm not complaining about it. We're paid to play the sport we love, and there's certainly money to be made at the top end of the game. But if you stack us up against the men, we look like second-class citizens."
Actually, I venture, some of them look more like supermodels, and Davies is all for a bit of glamour, not that she ever exudes it herself on the golf course. "I've never worn anything at all daring," she says, with a merry laugh, "but I like to see a bit of style on the golf course. I don't see why you can't combine glamour and sport, and it helps to tempt youngsters into the game. I like to see people having fun out there, in fact I'd like to see more of it.
"We need more of the Michelle Wies, the Paula Creamers. Unfortunately, some of the top players now win a tournament and you wouldn't know. They never seem to get excited."
That was never so of her hero, Seve Ballesteros. "I played with Seve on a few occasions, and learnt so much from the way he looked at shots and worked them out." She would have loved, she adds, to have partnered Seve against John Daly and Fred Couples, her dream fourball at least from the pro ranks.
As an avid fan of Liverpool FC, and royalty, her real dream fourball would have been with Steven Gerrard, Michael Owen and Diana, Princess of Wales. "I don't know if she played golf, but if she had..."
Sky Sports HD will show live coverage of the Dubai Ladies Masters between 5 and 8 December as part of the year-round schedule of women's golf on Sky
Davies' career factfile
Born 5 October, 1963, Coventry
Turned professional 1985
Tournament victories 82
LPGA Tour victories 20
Major wins Four [US Women's Open 1987; LPGA Championship 1994, 1996; Du Maurier Classic 1996]
* Davies was the first non-American to top the LPGA money list. The 49-year-old has also won the LET Order of Merit seven times, a record [1985, '86, '92, '96, '99, 2004, '06].
* She has also represented Europe in all 12 stagings of the Solheim Cup – the only European to do so – helping the continent to wins in 1992, 2000, 2003 and 2011, totalling 25 points from 46 matches.
* Named Ladies Tour Player of the Year in 1996 and European Player of the Year in 1996 and 1999.
* Awarded the MBE in 1988 and a CBE 12 years later.
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