Huge Swing or Not, the Lady Is a Champ


The longest hitter of the golf ball in the world, taking everything into consideration, is this big, blond bomber with this long, gorgeous swing, nice smile, lovely upper-body coordination and solid follow-through--once hit the ball 354 yards-plus off a tee. Awesome to watch.

John Daly? Naw. Good guess, but John Daly doesn’t smile all that much. Jack Nicklaus? I don’t think Nicklaus puts it out there 354 yards any more.

The golfer I have reference to is one of the Queen’s Own, a Member of the British Empire, and she’ll one day be Lady Laura Davies. She can do everything Nick Faldo can do and make sure the sun never sets on the British golf Empire.


She brings the Union Jack into the competition at the Nabisco Dinah Shore, the women’s major at Mission Hills this week.

Watching Laura Davis hit a golf ball is like watching Dempsey throw a right, Sampras serve an ace, Ruth put a 3-and-2 count into the seats or Jordan drop a three-point basket. You get goose bumps. The ball orbits. Nobody since Nicklaus has hit a ball so much higher, farther than the competition. The only words Davies needs on a fairway are, “I believe it’s you.”

Babe Didrikson hit the ball a long way. So did Joanne Carner. But the first time I ever came upon a Laura Davies drive at Mission Hills a few years ago, I turned to a spectator and made a guess, “She lies two to here, right?” Wrong. Laura Davies’ tee shots land where our second shots do.

Of course, like all bombers, she’s not always sure where it’s going, besides far. It’s the history of golf that the home run hitters attract all the Ooohs! and Aahs! but the accurate golfers attract all the cups and checks. The hoariest adage in golf is, “Drive for show, putt for dough. “ In other words, keep it in the fairway, stupid!

Alas! Almost all the horizon-hunters of history have had to throttle back their power arcs in the interest of keeping the ball in play. Jimmy Thomson, Mike Souchak, George Bayer come to mind.

Larrupin’ Laura gets the message. She admitted the other day that, as tempting as it was to go for the moon, she has bowed to the inevitable. On Mission Hill’s 14 holes of par four and over, she uses a driver on only eight of them. She uses a two-iron or less on the other six.

It’s nice to have a nine-iron or wedge second-shot to a par-four (or even par-five) green, but when the ball’s in the deep rough, the advantage is nullified, she has found.

It’s kind of sad. You can almost chart the adventures--and misadventures--of Lady Laura by the statistics of 1996. She won four tournaments last year. A lot of the courses she carpet-bombed. But you look in the fine print and you see where Davies led the LPGA Tour in driving distance (262.3-yard average) and, of course, she had almost twice as many eagles as her nearest pursuer, with 15 for the year.

But, oddly, Davies is nowhere to be found in the first 25 in fairways hit with the tee shot. She is 21st in birdies. She is 36th in putting. She is 10th in greens in regulation, even given the fact she has a much shorter iron to the green than anyone else out there.

She is second in rounds under par: 48 of her 68 were last year. She had 23 of her 68 in the 60s (seventh on the list).

All very well, fellow hackers, but, of course, none of us comes to a golf tournament to see Laura Davies feather a four-iron off a par-five tee. No one wants to see Tyson jab, Aaron bunt, Arnold Palmer lay up. Arnold raised an Army and made golf Page 1 with his “Go for it, Arnie!”

Let other people putt their way to the championship, we want Davies to leave the course lying in a heap pleading for the referee to stop it, right? We want a take-no-prisoners game from Long Laura. No negotiated peace, no white flag. We want unconditional surrender. Gen. Patton golf.

Of course, the trickery of golf is, it’s not a game that responds to brute strength. It makes its resentment known, makes you respect it.

But even when you do, it’s not to be trusted. Three years ago, Davies came to the long par-five final hole in this tournament leading by one shot. She proceeded to lay up on the hole to protect the lead, teeing off with a four-iron.

She ended up in the rough anyway, proceeded to butcher the approaches and ended up three-putting to lose the championship--to Donna Andrews--by a shot.

“But it wasn’t the tee shot that undid me that day,” Davies protested defensively in the press tent the other day. “It was that third shot to the green. I pulled it left 80 feet from the hole.”

Yeah, sure. But if you’d used the bomber off the tee, your third shot might have been a putt!

Those of us who have to lay up on par threes implore her, go to the lumber! When you’ve got it, flaunt it! Four-iron tee shot on par-fives? No way! Throw the hummer. Swing from the heels. Murder the bum! Make the crowd cover its eyes and yell “Stop it!”

“Lay Up” Laura? Say it isn’t so!