18 August 2017
Dame Laura Davies, the down-to-earth legend of the women’s game, reveals the secret to her successful 35-year career and why she fears for the longevity of the current crop of stars
Your passport says you’re 53, but how old do you feel?
I couldn’t put a figure on it, but mentally I still feel the same as I did when I first started out. I mean, I have the odd niggle here and there, but the competitiveness and the enthusiasm is still there. In my mind I’m good enough. I’m sure a lot of people don’t think I am, but as long as you still believe in yourself, you can win. Although I’ve not won since 2010, I’ve not given up on the idea of winning another tournament, or even another major.
Would you like to be 20, and do it all over again?
Absolutely, and I’d do it exactly the same way I did it 35 years ago. I understand the pressure on these girls to get out here and practise 14 hours a day, but the longevity is never going to be there. I think that’s why Juli Inkster, Lorie Kane and a few of the older players like me have lasted as long as we have. I think you can still do it the old way if you want to be successful; you don’t need to be pounding balls all day.
How pleased were you to be able to keep your run of 37 consecutive appearances going at the British Open – even if you had to come through qualifying?
My last resort was Monday qualifying. I didn’t enjoy it much, but that was all that was left for me. I felt a bit embarrassed, really, that my performances over the past year weren’t good enough to get me in without having to go through that. I’ve always prided myself on being good enough to be in the big championships. But time goes on, and you are not as good as you used to be, I suppose. I remember the first time I missed the US Open after something like 25 years. It is a horrible feeling, because you know how good you used to be, and you wouldn’t even think about not being exempt for tournaments. I’m still striking the ball well as I ever did, but I just need to hole a few more putts.
As a past winner of the Women’s British Open, it seems odd that you aren’t given an automatic place in the field, as the men are.
The one thing that really does annoy me is that past champions of the men’s Open Championship always get back in, but not for the Women’s Open. I think it’s ridiculous, but I don’t set the criteria. You can only beat what’s in front of you in your era. It is one of the finest victories I’ve ever had, winning round Birkdale at 16 under by five shots. It was one of the best weeks of my career, and only in my second year as a pro. Although it the Women’s British Open wasn’t given major status until 2001, it was still a major in my mind.
What’s the most practice you do during a tournament week?
When I’m playing badly, you’ll see me on the driving range. So the less you see me on the driving range, the better you know I’m playing. You have to find your own formula. At the moment, I think because of what Tiger did, everybody who comes out has nutritionists, coaches and psychologists, and that’s just modern golf, and that’s just the way it is for these girls. I seriously doubt whether they will be playing into their 40s and 50s.
Do you think the younger generation will burn out early?
I don’t really know what burn out means, but I just think they will be fed up with it, because when you spend every week practising, even when you have a week off, eventually it becomes a job. It’s never been a job for me. It’s always been great fun, and I’m really one of the luckiest people in the world to play a game that I love, and to play it reasonably well. It’s never been ‘oh, I’ve got to go and practise now’, I have to go and do this. It’s always been, ‘I want to go and practise’, ‘I want to go and do this’. I think possibly that’s why the careers are going to become a bit shorter. But if you’re achieving those heights so young and early, why not go for it? Hopefully Michelle Wie and others will be playing at 50, and that will be great for the game.
Is it down to peer pressure that most of them feel they ought to be out on the range all the time?
I don’t know. It just feels like they are practising because they think they should practise and maybe that’s the way it is. Of course, you need to practise, but you also need to have fun. It’s striking the balance.
A 13 year old won on tour last month. What do you think about the age at which some players are starting out in professional women’s golf?
My philosophy is if you’re good enough, you’re old enough, so I don’t have an issue with anyone having a go, providing they meet the required standard. Lexi Thompson played the US Open as a 12 year old, and Morgan Pressel played it as a really young girl, and they’ve both gone on to win Major championships. I don’t think anything bad can come out of it, because these kids are too young to worry about the pressure.
How much has the women’s game changed during your career?
Oh, there’s no comparison really. All the best players in those days were in their 30s and 40s. The Pat Bradleys, Beth Daniels. Now the best players are in their 20s, and often younger. The new generation is very athletic, and they generate tremendous power. Their clubhead speed is amazing. And I think that’s the biggest difference. I think that’s why people want to watch the women play now, because it’s more athletic. These days a hundred players every week have a really good chance of winning. The top players of yesteryear were every bit as good as now – there are just more of them now.
You’ve had so many highs in your career, but what has been the lowest point?
The lowest point probably was about nine or 10 years ago at the Nabisco, when I was playing so badly when I actually thought ‘I can’t do it anymore’. I shot 84 in the second round, missed the cut by a mile, and flew home not very happy – so that was probably the worst I ever felt.
As a staunch supporter of the Ladies European Tour over the decades, how disappointing is it to see the schedule shrinking to the extent that it has in recent seasons?
Hopefully we will turn the corner at some point. It is a work in progress, but you would have thought by now we would have established ourselves a lot better than we have. It is incredibly hard. I was so fortunate to turn professional and have 23 or 24 tournaments to play in. Over the years that got stronger, until the economic downturn. Since then the LET has really struggled. It’s nothing that the players have done wrong, not even that the officials have done wrong. It is what it is. I’ve no idea why corporate sponsors have turned their back on the women’s game, because all I ever hear is what great value we are in pro-ams, how the girls are more approachable than the guys, and stuff like that. Yet the corporate world doesn’t get behind us, so shame on them, really.
What’s life been like as a dame over the past three years?
I always thought you only got one upgrade, but I got the double bump, so I’m in first class now, so it’s lovely. It’s just a great honour. I got the MBE in 1987 after I won the US Open, and the CBE in 1996, and I thought that would be it. To be honest, when the letter came through from the Palace, I thought it was tickets for the royal box at Wimbledon, as they often hand them out to sportsmen and women. So it was a real surprise when I opened it. Some people reject these things, but I’d signed and put it in the post box within three minutes! I don’t think there’s any tournament I could win now that can beat this honour, because its something that’s given to you over a career. Nick Faldo got a knighthood for all he’s done, so now I’m the first woman to get damehood. So, yeah, it’s nice.
You were inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2015. How did that compare to the damehood?
I was really pleased to be inducted, mainly because they had a criteria rather than just a vote. I earned my way in there. I think it has to be up there with my damehood, alongside being made a member of the Royal and Ancient. I would have never considered looking at Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer and being in the same building as them, but obviously not on the same level as them, but in the same building, which is good enough for me.
What items from your collection did you donate to the Hall of Fame?
Lots of different bits and pieces. A European Solheim Cup golf bag and my original Benjie head cover. There were a few outfits and trophies, too, along with four sets of clubs, including the ones I used to win the 1987 US Women’s Open. I also donated the very first set of irons I owned – a set of MacGregor Tourneys that I picked up 1979. Choosing the items brought back a lot of great memories, and I’m proud people are now able to see some of the trophies and things I’ve accumulated over the years.
How disappointing was it to miss the official Hall of Fame induction?
It was hugely disappointing that I was unable to make the actual ceremony in St Andrews. I had a flight delay on my way back from competing in the US Women’s Open, but it was always going to be touch and go. I felt bad letting all those people down who travelled to be there. I was disappointed and I’m sure they were, too.
You were very critical of the way ‘Gimmegate’ was handled at the 2015 Solheim Cup. Do you think that it in some way tarnished the spirit of the matches going forward?
I was commentating on Sky at the time, and I said I was disgusted, and I genuinely meant that. We are all fierce competitors, but ultimately it’s not something you do to a fellow pro. I know Suzann [Pettersen] felt she let herself down, and she certainly let her team down, and it ultimately led to a US fight back, and they won the match. I hope that everyone can just put it behind them and move on. The Solheim Cup is bigger than any one individual.
Retirement comes to all sportsmen and women at some stage. Have you given it much thought?
If I can walk around a course I will still try to win – as long as I’m not embarrassing myself. At the moment I’m not. I’m playing some really good golf. So as long as they don’t have to carry me off the course, I’m going to keep on playing.