Laura Davies is renowned for the length of her driving but her reputation as a speed merchant is also gaining pace. She has replaced her BMW with a Ferrari and yesterday she revealed she has clocked 181mph. "I did it in Germany," she said. "I wouldn't admit to it anywhere else.''
At the age of 32 and with 45 victories throughout the world to her name, Davies felt it was time to travel in the fast lane. "I'm getting on a bit for a Ferrari but I wanted to get one when I didn't look stupid in it. It's been brilliant although not like Schumacher, of course." When she feels she has outgrown the classic Italian machine she will probably replace it with the "bit more staid" Aston Martin.
Davies has been phenomenally successful in recent years, winning eight events two seasons ago and seven last year. She already has five victories this year, not including a hugely lucrative performance in a skins game. She is back at Woburn for the Weetabix British Open, which starts today but Davies, who likes a flutter on the dogs and the horses, might have reservations about betting on herself to win this one.
For one thing the field is remarkably strong, including not only Europe's finest but 15 of the leading 20 on the American Tour. Even more significant, however, is the fact that Woburn, which seems to have more trees that Yellowstone National Park, is one of the few places that Davies has not burned up.
The tightness of the course acts as a brake against the power of her driving. Davies does not think she will be able to use her driver on more than half a dozen holes. Twelve months ago she was five over par after the first four holes and finished joint 45th. "I have to get off to a good start, nothing flashy, just keep the ball in play," she said. "I am much more consistent than I used to be and am thinking my way around courses much better. Years ago I said that if I ever won 50 tournaments I would retire but I had only won two when I said that. That is a horrible thought isn't it - put me teeth over here in a glass of water.''
Although Davies is ranked No 1 in the world on the Ping Leaderboard, she was relegated to second in the European Order of Merit and on the US LPGA Tour by the 25-year-old Swede Annika Sorenstam, the first European to top the money lists on both sides of the Atlantic. In addition Sorenstam has won the US Open two years running.
"It was going to be hard to beat 1995 which was such a good year," Sorenstam said, "but so far my scoring average is lower and I feel I am becoming a better player. I have totally worked on my game." Sorenstam, who won seven collegiate titles while at the University of Arizona, won the European Tour rookie of the year award in 1993 after finishing second in the Ford Classic at Woburn.
She was also joint second in the British Open at Woburn, behind the Australian Karrie Webb, last year. "I like the course, it feels like home," Sorenstam said. "It certainly suits my game. I like to place my tee shots with a three-wood. It is too tight to hit driver.''
Webb has also made a big impact in America, earning her card on the LPGA Tour courtesy of her victory in the British Open. She finished second, first, second in her first three tournaments in the United States and has consolidated her form in recent weeks. "It is all beyond my wildest dreams," she said. "Originally my goal was to keep my card." Webb has been so successful she has bought a house and a car in Orlando, Florida. Yesterday she went for a spin down the M1 in a more exotic form of transport, a white-knuckled passenger in Davies's Ferrari.