DCSIMG

Grand Dame Laura Davies

Early honour: Laura Davies.  Picture: Getty

Early honour: Laura Davies. Picture: Getty

  • by JOHN HUGGAN
 

DISAPPOINTINGLY, no evidence exists to suggest the iconic song-writing duo of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein were even occasional foursomes partners.

You can never be too sure though. In the wake of Laura Davies’ most recent honour, it does seem like the men behind South Pacific might just have known a thing or two about golf and golfers. When it comes to Dames, after all, there is nothing like our Laura.

“It’s nice to get recognition for playing golf,” says the four-time major champion and the winner of 65 events worldwide. “But it does seem a little weird when real heroes get medals for fighting wars. Still, this is the biggest honour I could ever have achieved. And now I’m on the same level as Nick Faldo. I like the sound of that.”

Now 50, the 12-time Solheim Cup player (and leading points scorer on either side) is, she would be first to admit, a little past her best these days. Scores of 82 and 74 in the US Women’s Open that will conclude later today at Pinehurst are evidence enough of that sobering fact. But Davies remains one of the biggest names in her sport and certainly one of the most widely recognisable. If anyone in the ladies’ game is worthy of the equivalent of a knighthood it is she.

Even at the peak of her career, Davies never forgot her roots. At a time when the Ladies European Tour was struggling to stay in existence, she made regular trips away from the more lucrative LPGA Tour in the States to support – and basically save – her home circuit. It is safe to assume no other golfer in history can make such a claim.

“There was more than me stepped up,” she says modestly. “Lotte Neumann was always good about coming back to play. We knew the tour needed the bigger names if it was to survive. I like to think we helped at a time when the LET was battling to stay alive.”

Davies’ regular absences from the LPGA also had a wider impact on her career. Twenty times a winner stateside – the most recent in 2001 – she sits two points short of automatic qualification to the LPGA’s Hall of Fame. And her omission from the PGA Tour plaything also known as the World Golf Hall of Fame has long been an outrage.

“To be fair, the various LPGA commissioners have wanted to put my name forward for the World Golf Hall of Fame,” she says. “I’ve always said I’m not interested. I want to get into the LPGA Hall first. I’ve been just short of that for a while now. Normally one leads to the other. And that’s always been the way I wanted to do it. One more win will take care of everything.

“But yes, playing so much in Europe has hurt me in terms of how many wins I have in America. If I’d based myself there as Annika (Sorenstam) and others did, I’m pretty sure my 20 wins would be 30 wins. But I chose to go back to Europe. I enjoyed that. And I don’t regret it. But when I’m asked if I would have the points I need to be in the LPGA Hall of Fame by now, I say ‘almost certainly’.”

Quite apart from her wins as an individual, Davies’ career has also been largely defined by her contribution to the Solheim Cup. Just as the late, great Seve Ballesteros did in the Ryder Cup, Laura led from the front in the biennial battle between Europe and the United States. An ever-present in the first 12 matches, she missed out for the first time last year.

“It was weird to be there but not playing,” says Davies, who was part of the Sky commentary team as the European squad romped to a record victory on US soil. “I wasn’t enjoying it at first. But by the end, because we did so well, I was having fun. I’m a sports fan at the end of the day. As for me not playing, I wasn’t too disappointed. I hadn’t given Lotte (Neumann, the non-playing captain) many reasons to pick me. But I must admit I did have a little hope that she might pick me for my experience. We had a very young team so I could have helped in that respect. But she decided not to. And she was right in the end.

“I’m working hard to get back into the team for next year though. I’d love to play. The galleries will be massive. I’m playing well enough to do it, I think. It’s just a case of whether I can make the putts at the right times. That’s been the story of my game for a while. I’m hitting the ball well – as good as I ever have. But I’m not scoring because I’m not holing out well enough. I feel good over the putts but they’re not going in for whatever reason.”

As for the Solheim Cup captaincy, Davies has long been ambivalent about taking up such a role and remains so now. “Maybe when I stop playing completely, I’ll do it if I’m asked,” she says. “But as long as I’m playing full-time, I can’t imagine it. So it’ll be a while yet if it ever happens. I still love to play. I can see myself still doing this when I’m 60. Look at Tom Watson. He was 59 and nearly won the Open. I’d like to be the same as him.”

To fulfill that ambition, Davies will need to putt better. In Canada one week before Pinehurst, she finished 16 shots behind the winner, Inbee Park, having used her putter 25 times more than the Korean. Which is nothing new. While she remains more than competitive tee-to-green, the still big-hitting Coventry-native has never been the most consistent with with is – and always will be – the shortest club in her bag.

“One thing I will never do is switch to a belly putter or a broom-handle,” she claims. “I’d rather give up than do that. If you can’t play properly, don’t play at all is my motto. Using a normal putter is part of the game for me. To me, those players who get lined up by their caddies are not really playing the game. That’s not proper golf.

“Besides, I’m strong enough to keep playing at the top level. What people lose first as they get older is the ability to keep up off the tee. But I can still do that. I was miles ahead at one time and I am still in the top ten for distance now. So power-wise I’m fine. I can keep up with almost all of the younger girls, even the really long hitters like Lexi Thompson and Jessica Korda.

“There are so many great youngsters people want to see play. They are young and athletic and smash it like the men. In that respect, our game has changed so much over the years. They’re all great ball-strikers and they all play aggressively. Charley Hull is another one. She has a big future in the game. She is very appealing, a lovely girl. Plus, she is as daft as a halfpenny brush, which is how I was at her age. But she is 18 and supposed to be that way. She hits the ball unbelievably well.”

So all is not doom and gloom, especially for this newly minted Dame. In typical Davies fashion she thought the missive from Buckingham Palace contained tickets for Wimbledon.

“The letter basically states two things: do you accept? And if you do, you can’t tell anyone,” she says with a smile. “People do say ‘no’ to it apparently. God knows why, but they do. I had it signed and back in the letterbox within three minutes. I ran up the road with my dog and posted it. Then I told my brother, my mum and my step-dad. Since then, I’ve been trying to resist telling people. It was difficult.

“It’s just a great honour. I got an MBE when I won the US Open in 1987 and a CBE in 1996. I always thought you only got one upgrade. But I got the double bump. It’s amazing. I’m the first woman golfer to be a Dame.”

Indeed. Now if she could just fix that putting.

 

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