Golf: Distant horizons well within her range: John Hopkins talks to Laura Davies as she prepares for next weekend's Solheim Cup

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The Independent Online
COULD life be any better for Laura Davies, Britain's best known woman golfer? The faster the pounds have fallen from her figure, the quicker the pounds have accumulated in her bank account. So far the score is 52 avoirdupois, pounds 140,000 sterling and neither the dieting nor the winning has stopped yet.

Davies, 28, has been the dominant figure on the European tour since she became US Open champion in 1987 two years after turning professional. She is currently in a vein of form that is as successful as Nick Faldo's on the men's tour. Since the end of May, she has won three events and lost two play-offs in the US. In the same time Faldo has won four events in Europe.

The difference between them is that Faldo's are the product of a methodical manner in which errors are rare. Davies's approach is more carefree, based on her extraordinary power, which means that some of hers are runaways - by five strokes in Italy last Sunday and seven strokes in the English last month. Her stroke average in Europe prior to this week's British Open was 69.87.

In a land where self-effacement and modesty are art forms, it is refreshing to come across a rose as English as Davies and feel the force of her convictions. There is no muttering and indecision here. Ask if she is happier than she has ever been and playing better golf than ever and the answer comes back loudly: 'Yes.'

Which is just as well because at Dalmahoy, Edinburgh, next weekend she will be a central figure in the European team of women professionals that faces the Americans in the second Solheim Cup. The Americans won the first which was held two years ago at Lake Nona, near Orlando, Florida, by 11 1/2 pts to 4 1/2 .(

The Solheim Cup is no Wightman Cup, thank goodness. The Americans are aware that the standards on the European tour are rising fast. Each year, seemingly, a major new talent emerges from mainland Europe.

In 1988 it was Liselotte Neumann from Sweden. She won that year's US Open and is now ranked 20th in the world. In 1990 it was Helen Alfredsson, another Swede, who became British Open champion. And now she and the latest sensation, Florence Descampe from Belgium, are the leading contenders for rookie of the year on the US tour, where Descampe won her first tournament last month.

'Ah, the Solheim Cup' Davies says with a smile. 'I love team events. What makes them so much more exciting is that you're doing it for other people. I'd love it if I was playing in the match that could decide the Cup. I would absolutely love to roll that last putt in for victory. That would be a dream for me. It's a dream of mine to hole the winning putt at the British Open but it's even more of a dream to do so with all your team-mates on the edge of the green.'

Davies's reputation is based largely on some of the most powerful hitting by a female golfer ever seen. Jim Murray once wrote in the Los Angeles Times: 'It would be one thing if Laura had this delicate little game where she just popped the ball low and straight and putted masterfully. But Laura not only hits the ball like the young Jack Nicklaus, she looks a little like him, too. Blonde hair, blue eyes, a Golden She-Bear. There's a lot of her and it all gets behind every shot. Other golfers aim for a target. Laura aims for the horizon.'

This brings to mind another blond, extremely powerful male golfer, namely John Daly. 'It's easy to think of Laura as the John Daly of women's golf in the sense that she hits the ball such a long way,' says Evelyn Orley, the Swiss-born American. 'There is for example a difference of three clubs between us. When I take a five-iron Laura needs only an eight-iron. But if you think all she can do is hit the ball a long way that gives the wrong impression. She has an incredible touch around the greens. You have only to see her bouncing the ball on the face of her club, or fooling around with delicate shots around the green to see that.'

Distance per se is not always the golden prize it appears to be. Someone may have said that too much of a good thing is wonderful but in golf too much length is only good if it is accompanied by accuracy. In Davies's case, it is - at least these days. In the last round in Italy she hit 17 greens in regulation, for example. That would not have been the case in the past, when she sometimes could not hit the tees in regulation, never mind the greens.

'I pull the dog's ears occasionally, go to church on Sundays. I don't smoke, drink or take drugs,' Davies said recently, adding, mischievously: 'and I lie a lot.' There's nothing for her to lie about now. She can tell the truth about her lost weight - and her burgeoning bank balance.

(Photograph omitted)