Laura Davies: The finest golfer of the nation
It is quite possible these days to sit through a press conference of 20 minutes or so before retreating to the relative interest of your desk having learned nothing.
More and more the art is to reveal little while saying plenty as a string of words and in-phrases – the processes and the reps – are trotted out to replace the possibility of saying anything of note.
Then there is Dame Laura Davies who is as far removed from this media-trained world as seems possible. The 51-year-old won her first of seven Order of Merit titles in her rookie season. By the time the Solheim Cup first took place at Lake Nona in 1990 she had amassed five of them and a US Open.
This year Davies is on the fringes of a 13th Solheim appearance. She holds a variety of records but she is quick to bat away any praise, Davies doesn’t do self-promotion.
It’s not done through any false modesty; Davies is genuinely down to earth and unassuming. She is actually quite shy.
She might be a member of the R&A and a recent inductee of the World Golf Hall of Fame but her ideal would be to knock about with the caddies, have a few bets and talk about Liverpool’s chances this season. Davies quite fancies them to win the league, incidentally.
The day before we sit down she has been caddying for Becky Brewerton at Irvine in Final Qualifying for the Women’s British Open. She wasn’t doing anything so offered her services. It rained all day but she was true to her word.
Should Davies make the team this year at St Leon-Rot Golf Club, just south of Heidelberg, she would secure another record, that of the oldest player to represent either team, edging past this year’s American captain Juli Inkster who was 51 years and 91 days in Ireland.
And you can safely assume that Davies will be wanting to play all five matches and lead us off in the singles.
When did you first hear about the possibility of a Solheim Cup taking place?
They probably would have started talking about it as an idea not long after I turned pro which was 1985 and by 1990 the first match was played. I knew the Solheim family were very interested in being involved but you hear so many times that a tournament might happen, and they were saying this would be the Ryder Cup of women’s golf.
Did you hit the first ever shot at Lake Nona?
I’ve got a feeling that I did hit the first shot as I’ve got a memory of Ali hitting a great fairway bunker shot so it was probably me. At the time all we were thinking of was beating Nancy Lopez and Pat Bradley who were Hall of Famers.
I think we beat them 2&1, we were giddy beating them but, in the end, that point was irrelevant as we lost the cup. But to beat them was quite something.
You lost 11.5-4.5 in Florida and then, two years later, Europe won by five points at Dalmahoy. Given the turnaround is that your favourite win?
Definitely, all the wins are fun but because they were pretty much all Hall of Famers and we were a bunch of chancers that was special. We didn’t have a name among us.
What about you?
I suppose I had won the US Open, Lotta Neumann had also won it the year after in 1988, and I was starting to get a name but it was nothing in comparison to the American team. We rose to the occasion which is what you have to do. I imagine we would have been an enormous price in a two-horse race.
The Solheim Cup has been held in Scotland and Sweden twice, Wales, Ireland and this year Germany. Why has England never staged a Solheim Cup and would that make you change your mind over being a captain?
It’s crazy, everywhere but England. In terms of the captaincy not really, Trish Johnson is the same. It’s not that I couldn’t be bothered with all that goes with it but I would hate every second of it and that would be two years of my life being a misery.
I don’t care about the winning. I hate Monday through Thursday of a Solheim Cup, they are probably the worst few days on a golfing two-year calendar. The photos, dinners, meetings and practice rounds – everything that I hate the most in life. I would be surprised if anyone enjoys the start of the Solheim Cup.
And then you have three of the best days on the calendar.
If they said you can turn up as captain on the Monday morning of Solheim week then that might work but I don’t suppose that is going to happen!
Does the public speaking put you off?
The speeches don’t worry me, I would be dreading it up to the point when I start talking as that’s the way I am. Everything I don’t like doing I dread and dread and dread it, and then it’s not so bad. I would dread the speech but it’s not like I wouldn’t want to do it.
As an amateur I wouldn’t throw tournaments but I would much rather be second than win it. Then, as a pro, there is a trophy and the first prize and you are trying to make a living, then you learn that sometimes there are things that you don’t want to do. After a couple of speeches you kind of look forward to it, the winner’s speech comes 10 minutes after winning so you are still excited.
Have you ever done any after-dinner speaking?
I refuse them every time, I just wouldn’t be comfortable.
But you would be good…
But I’ve got no interest in it. If we were all sat round I wouldn’t be the quietest person in the room but what would I talk about anyway, it’s not going to happen.
How nervous do you get in the Solheim Cup?
As nervous as you are going to be, as nervous as you would be in the final round of a US Open in the last group.
My legs get very shaky, all the power goes out of them. They feel hollow. It is just on the first tee shot, once that is out the way then you are good to go. You need the fear to get you going and then it goes but if you show the fear in the battle then you probably aren’t going to win.
Do bigger crowds affect how you feel?
It doesn’t matter if there are 10,000 or a couple of people. Sometimes someone from the men’s tour might turn up and you’ll think you don’t want to make a fool of yourself.
Before the round I pace around and I rarely eat before a tournament round. I’ll muck around and have a laugh and that’s my way of trying to get that first tee shot out the way.
What are you like as a partner?
I think I’m good. Ali (Nicholas) and I had an unbelievable run together. We had a couple of fights which I think is good for a partnership, you can’t just be agreeing with each other all the time.
What was it like to be captained by her in 2009 and ‘11?
In 2009 on the Friday night my caddy and I were sat at the back of the room and thinking we would probably be off first in the morning. The first pairing was read out and it wasn’t us so we thought we must be last out, and then we weren’t down to play.
I looked at Johnny and said ‘have I missed something’? We assumed we would be playing as we had missed that afternoon.
The following morning I was on the 1st tee and Val Skinner was doing TV for Golf Channel and she asked me why I wanted to be left out and was I not playing very well?
I said ‘excuse me?’ She said that Alison had said that I had requested to be left out, I didn’t know what she was talking about. It turned out that Alison had said this in her press conference, this was ludicrous. Even if I had one of my legs falling off, I would still have a go. From that point onwards we weren’t good mates for a while and the way I found out was none too pleasant.
I didn’t play at all on the Saturday so I rode around in a buggy with Johnny, fell out with the Americans as they thought we were abusing the buggy use and cheered the team on. I was thoroughly bored really.
You first missed a match in the eighth Solheim Cup which meant 30 straight outings. How hard is it to win all five matches as Caroline Hedwall did in Colorado two years ago?
Almost impossible, I always think it is incredibly hard to win a matchplay tournament as you have to win something like six matches but someone has to do it.
At the Solheim there are the different disciplines of foursomes and fourballs and it is extremely hard – plus your partner has to be playing well for those four rounds.
I have never minded playing a lot of matches, it gets more tiring as the Solheims go on but the first time I missed a match was by Catrin Nilsmark at Barseback in 2003. I was absolutely gutted and I didn’t understand it, and I still don’t understand it, but we won so it was good captaining.
The Europeans still aren’t as deep as the Americans so Suzann Pettersen will have to play five. I don’t go along with the ‘you’ll be tired on Sunday’ argument. All you’re doing is walking, I’m not carrying the bag, I’m just walking.