Talent that is hard to miss

Laura Davies, Britain's foremost female golfer, talks to Richard Edmondson about why she considers herself blessed

It might be safe to assume that Britain's best male golfer and his female counterpart have little in common. Laura Davies likes a gamble and a drink, she refuses to practice after a round or take advice from a coach, and relaxes by playing car-park football with the caddies on the tour.

When Davies tees off today in the first round of the Ford Golf Classic at Chart Hills in Kent, Nick Faldo's first design venture in Europe, she will parade that most uncommon quality in a sports player: someone who is both talented and humble.

The 31-year-old's competitive skills are unquestioned. The leading money- winner on the LPGA circuit last year, she has again been burning up the American and Japanese tours this season, recording seven top-six finishes - including two victories - from nine tournaments.

In any other sporting realm this would guarantee celebrity, but when the BBC run their review in December, Davies will probably be in Row H, next to the bloke who has left a kayak on his roof-rack.

Davies' problem is twofold. She is in a sport where the financial and attention battle of the sexes is nowhere near as close as it is in tennis, and to borrow a figure from the other game, she does not possess the Gabriela Sabatini advertising package. If you see Davies, you notice the frame that launches the ball huge distances, the shoes like herring boxes; if you listen to her, you recognise a rare humour and sincerity.

For the Coventry-born Davies, who now lives in some splendour in West Byfleet, it was not always like this. In the early days, the driver used to go as far as the drives, and the thrower would forever curse her ill- fortune.

Much of Davies' current success can be traced back to an aeroplane journey from Japan two years ago, when, as the duty frees were wheeled past, the golfer decided she had a duty to herself. To stop moaning. This mental volte-face is such that not only does Davies no longer believe she is wickedly unlucky on the golf course, she now thinks of herself as blessed.

"I've had a lot of luck this year," she said. "I've had a lot of balls going out of bounds hit trees and come back, and putts that normally lip out diving in. Things are going my way and it's great. I don't know what it is." It is actually called positive thinking.

Davies has much time to think and sleep on planes (she will travel across the Atlantic at least 10 times this year), and she does so outside the luxury of first class.

"It seems such a waste to spend six hours and $5,000 on a plane," she said. "I'd rather spend it at the other end. When I get on board, the usual game is to hunt around for three or four seats to lie across."

When she wakes up, Davies likes to spend, and her appearance yesterday morning suggested she would give Tutankhamun a good run for his money in terms of gold. At home, her collector's instinct extends to televisions (she has 18) and teddy bears, over 100 of which are reported to stalk the place.

Rather less soft and cuddly was the television commentator in the United States, whose recent remarks allegedly questioned the sexuality of the Tour as a whole and Davies' size in particular. He called her a tank.

Davies has been through this tiresome territory before, and like other well-built people before her, she chooses to get the self-deprecatory material in first. "Apparently he was looking for me, but I never saw him," she said. "I'm so small he wouldn't have seen me anyway, blending into one of the flagsticks."

However, at Biddenden in Kent this week, Britain's best-ever female golfer will not be easy to miss. Laura Jane Davies, who has kept company with Fred Couples and Ray Floyd off the back tees, will be the one booming out 300-yard drives, occasionally removing both feet off the ground as the torque reaches her legs.

She has already completed one half of her season's ambition of winning on both sides of the Atlantic but, most of all, she would like to help her European team-mates regain the Solheim Cup from the United States at St Pierre in September.

Before then, she will impress many with her abilities and good grace, starting with those who watch her negotiate the oak-strewn Chart Hills today. The recently completed course has 138 sand traps, including the 200-yard long Anaconda Bunker, which threatens all the way up the fifth. On current form, Davies is unlikely to be sliding into that hazard. She is too busy climbing ladders.

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