Golf: A giant in the shadowlands

Close-Up: Laura Davies; Golf's first lady has won two majors and pounds 1m this year but is still poor in terms of recognition. Andrew Farrell reports
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The Independent Online
The press release from the American LPGA Tour does not mince words while describing the achievements of "this 33-year-old superstar from West Byfleet, England". West Byfleetians, let alone the rest of Britain, could be forgiven for not knowing of this superstar, as Laura Davies must be one of the most unheralded sporting successes Britain has produced. She is more likely to have a flutter on the National Lottery than receive one of the new lottery-funded grants. Yet it has not stopped her becoming the world No 1 and the dominant force in her sport.

Laura Davies plays golf. Rather well. Last week in Japan she won a tournament by 15 strokes, only one shot outside her own world record winning margin. It was her ninth win of the season, not including the LPGA Skins Game where she picked up $340,000. She has won two American majors and has already secured the European Order of Merit title for the fourth time.

Davies also leads the US money list going into the final event, the LPGA Tour Championship in Las Vegas this week. To complete the transatlantic double, she has to stay ahead of the young Australian phenomenon Karrie Webb, and the outsider Annika Sorenstam, who became the first person ever to achieve the feat last year.

Recognition within her sport is not Davies's problem. She has won the LPGA Player of the Year award for the first time and will be a hot favourite for the Association of Golf Writers' Trophy, awarded to the person or persons having made an outstanding contribution to golf during the year. The European Ryder Cup team won the trophy last year, while Davies took it the year before, when she won on all five continents.

On a wider scale, Davies was awarded a Sunday newspaper's British Sportswoman title last week, but she will remain conspicuous by her absence in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year poll. Davies is uniquely qualified: she actually has a personality. The four-time Solheim Cup captain Mickey Walker said: "If there is one person in British sport that deserves to be the BBC Sports Personality of the Year it would be Laura. She has a phenomenal talent and it is wonderful to see somebody not only not abuse it, but enhance the whole of the women's tour. What she has achieved is so refreshing and unusual in today's big world of commercial sport." Those words may have been spoken two years ago but they remain valid.

"I won't get a look in again this year because I'm not on TV enough," Davies said from Queensland where she is at present playing in the Australian Masters on the way from Japan to the United States. "Maybe ladies golf is not taken seriously enough. It is not something that worries me, it amuses me.

"It's something we laugh about. If Faldo or Woosie or any of the boys had done what I have done, they would be Prime Minister by now. It is just the publicity that we get versus the publicity that the men get. To be honest I think if we had a tennis player doing this, then they would get the publicity. But ladies' golf has always had this bit of a stigma attached to it, the girls can't really play type of thing."

Anyone who has seen Davies drive the ball over 300 yards knows this is not the case. "I don't think people appreciate quite how good the standard is. If someone is going well like I am then they think, yes, but the standard isn't very high. But that is not the case. You have Annika and Karrie and any of the top players now are world-class players. There are no pushover tournament wins. It's a great sport. We don't get the recognition, but it doesn't bother me."

But Davies was less pleased when she hit the front pages in the summer because of her liking for gambling in any form. It was a slow news day and the publishers had a book to promote. "I was asked how much I had lost over the years and I said, off the top of my head, maybe half a million. That is over about 14 years. All of a sudden it is front page news. A friend of mine saw my picture on the front page of the Mirror and thought I had killed myself. When she read the story she laughed her socks off.

"I really have no idea about the figure. It may be higher, it may be lower. It is my hobby and I love it. If I can't find someone to have a game of tennis or kick a football around, I go down to the bookies for the afternoon and have a punt on the dogs. I don't drink, I don't smoke, I don't do drugs, so I think it is all right to gamble a bit."

Quite where Davies gets the energy for it all is a mystery. By the end of the season - and she still has a date with John Daly in a mixed team event in America - she will have played 20 out of 21 weeks. She cannot wait to get back to the home she shares with her mother and stepfather to play with her two King Charles spaniels, drive the Ferrari she bought this year and check up on her teddy bear collection.

"I'm looking forward to not waking up to the alarm clock and a tee time. The alarm clock becomes the enemy after a run like this. It sounds like I'm complaining but I'm not. It is not a normal lifestyle, but as well as being hard work, it is really good fun. I'm not tired physically, but standing over three-foot putt after three-foot putt and worrying about them can get you down. If I wasn't trying to achieve something then I wouldn't play because I have pretty much had enough right now. I'm playing and I'm trying my hardest, but there is not that real fire. If you are enjoying something you keep going.

"Ridiculous as it sounds, mentally it is difficult to keep winning because you think, when is this going to end? That eventually starts working against you. At the back of your mind you have to battle against that and although confidence breeds confidence you start wondering why it is always you. You need luck to win tournaments and I've had an awful lot over the last few years."

Whether it be on the blackjack table or on the course this week in Las Vegas, the one thing you can guarantee is that Davies will be having fun. But a superstar? "I don't really know what a superstar is. I'm good at what I do; if that makes me a superstar then so be it. I would think of a superstar as someone who works in Hollywood, not a sports person." There is one problem with winning all these tournaments and awards. It means having to make a speech and that is the one thing Davies dreads more than anything else.

This season's lucrative travels of a world No 1

Trip Miles Tournament Finish Earnings

Surrey to Orlando, US 4,345 Tournament of Champions Tied 3 $47,750

Grand Cypress to Walt Disney 5 HealthSouth Inaugural T8 $11,208

Walt Disney to Tucson 1,783 Ping/Welch's Championship Missed Cut $0

Tucson to Phoenix 109 Standard Register Ping Win $105,000

Phoenix to Palm Springs 260 Nabisco Dinah Shore T15 $12,114

Palm Springs to Lincoln, Calif 454 Sacramento Classic T16 $6,541

Lincoln to Atlanta 2,089 Chick-fil-A Championship T43 $1,996

Atlanta to Hiroshima, Japan 6,852 Satake Japan Classic Win $88,000

Hiroshima to Daytona Beach, US 7,218 Sprint Titleholders T4 $52,332

Daytona Beach to Wilmington, Del 980 McDonald's LPGA Championship Win $180,000

Wilmington to Dallas 1,292 JC Penny LPGA Skins Game Win $340,000

Dallas to Pinehurst, NC 1,051 US Women's Open 6 $40,077

Pinehurst to East Lansing, Mich 554 Oldsmobile Classic T6 $19,473

East Lansing to Evian, France 3,964 Evian Masters Win $84,375

Evian to Cologne, Germany 264 Hennessy Cup 8 $11,250

Cologne to Dublin, Ireland 692 Irish Open T3 $10,230

Dublin to Edmonton, Canada 4,502 DuMaurier Classic Win $150,000

Edmonton to Gleneagles, Scotland 4,753 McDonald's WPGA Classic T27 $2,453

Gleneagles to Woburn 444 Weetabix British Women's Open T19 $9,044

Woburn to Dayton, Ohio 3,916 Star Bank LPGA Classic Win $82,500

Dayton to Springfield, Ill 648 State Farm Rail Classic T2 $46,294

Springfield to Hanbury Manor, Herts 4,210 M&S European Open 7 $4,500

Hanbury Manor to Thame, Oxon 98 Wilkinson Swords English Open Win $22,500

Thame to Chepstow, Wales 328 Solheim Cup (Lost to US)

Chepstow to Charlotte, NC 3,965 Fieldcrest Cannon Classic T13 $7,547

Charlotte to Chiba, Japan 6,874 Takara World Invitational 7 $22,000

Chiba to Reading, Pa 6,757 Corestates Betsy King Classic 2 $55,855

Reading to Sicily, Italy 4,927 Italian Open Win $22,500

Sicily to Ibaragi-ken, Japan 8,978 Toray Japan Queen's Cup 2 $69,819

Ibaragi-ken to Chonan, Japan 264 Itoen Classic Win $96,000

Total miles: 98,292. Total money: $1,601,358 (approx pounds 1,068,000). Source: Sal Johnson/Golf World US