This Dame is not for turning

 

Some of you – well, me, anyway – may remember that I wrote a column a couple of years ago in praise of Laura Davies.  I had gone to the Manulife LPGA event in Cambridge, ON, specifically to interview the great Dame Laura, but we got our signals mixed and it didn’t happen.  Nonetheless, I wrote a few words about her career achievements, which are awesome.  But I still wanted to interview her in person sometime.

That opportunity came up again at the Manulife last week.  This time we were able to sit down for about twenty minutes, following her first round of 2-under par over the Whistle Bear GC course.  As we were walking into the Clubhouse, I asked her how she felt about the round.  “Fine,” she said, “I hit the ball very well.  I just putted like sh*t.”  I knew this was going to be a fun conversation.

But before I get into the details, let me just reiterate, to those who may not know who Laura Davies is… she is…

  • a Dame Commander of the British Empire, the highest honour that can be bestowed on a female commoner, awarded by the Queen in 2014 for her services to golf in the UK and around the globe
  • a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, one of only 36 women members
  • a winner of four LPGA majors, and 20 LPGA tournaments in a professional career dating back 33 years
  • a winner of 64 OTHER professional tournaments around the world, including 45 on the Ladies European Tour
  • one of the initial group of women invited to join the R&A at St. Andrews, when they finally relented to women in 2013
  • one of the longest hitters in the history of the women’s game

I’ve always been in awe of Dame Laura’s game, and intrigued by her personality, which has always seemed to me to be earthy, and candid, and tons of fun.  But these last few years, when she’s been by far the oldest active member of the LPGA Tour, at age 53, I’ve also been in awe of her perseverance, and wondered WHAT ON EARTH keeps her at it, week-in and week-out.

“Because I think I can win,” she said to me, as if I was a moron. “I don’t see why I can’t… maybe if I could just have some better luck putting.  I’m not sure I understand your question, actually.”

Fair enough, Madam.  I stand chastened.  And still in awe.

But the fact is, her last tournament victory is now five years back in the rearview mirror, and even at that, it was a senior ladies event.  Her last regular LPGA Tour win came 16 years ago this weekend, in Rochester, a three stroke victory over Wendy Ward and Maria Hjorth, two players who are barely remembered today, perhaps even by their grandchildren.  The point being, uh, she’s not really in contention any more, so why keep trying.

“Because I think I can win,” she said again.

Y’mean, says I, when you tee it up on a Thursday morning at some ungodly time like 7.32, in the company of two other players who may not have been BORN by the time you won your last major (1996), you’re thinking to yourself, “with a little bit o’ bloomin’ luck, I might pull this one off this week…?”

“Absolutely!” says the Dame.  “I’m very proud of the fact that I can still outhit most of them, and if I can just find a weekend when chipping and putting fall into place, I have as much chance as any of them.”

Chastened still, but still awestruck, I move on.  So, when do you think you’ll retire?

“You tell me why I should.”

Um… uh… well… you’ve got a good point there.

“Look Jim, I’ll tell you WHY I’m still playing: TWO POINTS.  That’s all I need to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame.  Two victories, or one major.  That’s all I want.  Besides, if I retired, I’d be bored stiff after six months.”

Gotcha.  Fair enough.  That’s really important to you, hunh?

“Considering I’ve been made a Dame, and I’m in the World Golf Hall of Fame, yes, it absolutely is.”

Yes, it seems ironic that you’re in the world hall, but not the Ladies.  Do you think the LPGA criteria are unfair?

“Not at all.  I’d hate to see them change it, and make it easier.  It is what it is, and it’s what most of us have been, and continue to strive for.”

So let me ask you this: Would the 24-year-old Laura Davies be able to explode onto the LPGA Tour TODAY, like you did in 1987?

“Not really, no.  I was a bomber and bombers really aren’t rewarded today.  We play shorter courses which benefit shorter hitters… although Lexi’s a bomber.  But the players today are so much more accurate, they have such better short games… especially the Asians.  Big hitters don’t really have an advantage like we used to.”

Do you find the young ones look up to you, like a den mother?

“More like a grandmother, actually.  The ones they look up to are Karrie Webb… Catriona Matthew… and they’re actually a generation after me.”

Okay, so as I know you’re anxious to get on your way, let me ask you a few quick ones…

Greatest honour?  “Being appointed Dame Commander of the British Empire by Her Majesty the Queen.”

Most satisfying moment in golf.  “Winning my first Solheim Cup, at Dalmahoy in Scotland, in 1992.”

Favourite golf course in the world.  “St. Andrews.”  (Where she was recently made an Honorary Member of the R&A.)

Favourite place in the world.  “Australia.”

What you like most about your life.  “Travel.  Meeting new people.”

Future of ladies professional golf.  “It’s okay, but we need more electrifying players, like Lexi.  And Brooke Henderson, of course.”

Thank you, your Ladyship.  Please, never retire.

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