At KPMG Women’s PGA, Laura Davies shows she’s still smashing

Laura Davies

Laura Davies during the first round of the KPMG Women's PGA Championship.

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NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa. — Laura Davies was in the last group on the last day, just as she often was, in her long heyday. But now she’s 57 and the only reason she’s bringing up the rear is because she had one of the highest 54-hole scores and the tee times were organized to accommodate the programming needs of NBC Sports. That’s OK. Somebody has to pay the bills around here.

Davies had a four-putt double-bogey on 8 and a three-putt par on 9. As she walked to the 10th tee, she looked like she was ready to break something.

There was a wait there. Dame Laura — that’s a real thing, like Sir Nick — lifted her sand wedge by its flange half from her bag and smashed it back in place. One of her young playing partners, Xi Yu Lin, backed up a foot or two.

LD played third and last from the 10th tee, a short, downhill par-4. She smashed another drive, just as she had smashed a few dozen others over the course of her week, here at Aronimink, where the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship concluded on Sunday. She lofted a wedge in could-make range. This time, she two-putted.

“You hit it so good,” somebody said to Davies as she waited on the 11th tee.

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Even though the event had no spectators, there were still a couple hundred people on site, a hilly Donald Ross design that is one of the best courses in greater Philadelphia, which makes it one of the best courses in the world. Its greens are vast and loaded with slope.

“If I could putt I’d be dangerous,” Davies said.

She opened an ice chest. There were bananas and apples and water, plus some good stuff. Dame Laura went for the good stuff: an orange Gatorade and a Twix bar. She and Lin — 24, from China — started chatting casually. The young golfer was playing with a legend and taking advantage of it.

Davies won the 1987 U.S. Open, the 1994 and ’96 PGA Championships, and scores of other times across the world. She was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2015, alongside the long-dead A.W. Tillinghast. Tillinghast would have loved her. The famous course architect lived large, too, and fiddled some with the course Davies and Co. were playing. The men’s PGA Championship will be played at Aronimink in 2026.

Thirteen could play as a drivable par-4 for Bryson DeChambeau by then, if BDC is in the field and still packing heat. Davies brought a pitching wedge and a driver to the tee. She hammered the leading edge of the wedge into the turf, to create a tiny green hillock. She handed her wedge back to her caddie, a gent named Paul out of the Aronimink caddie yard, and placed her yellow ball on the top of her green mound. (She likes yellow because she can see the back of it in early-morning and late-afternoon light.) She then smashed a fade drive that went low and ran forever and left her an itty-bitty sand iron second shot. The drive had to be close to 300 yards. Lin was almost laughing as she asked Davies about the grass tee as they walked down the fairway.

On 15, a driving-distance-measuring hole, the volunteer doing the measuring, a retired engineer named John Dzurko, marked Davies down for a 280-yard poke. Only about 10 players were longer.

“And she’s the only one,” Dzurko said, “who acknowledged me every day. Just a tip of the cap.”

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A tip of the visor, if you want to be technical about it. Davies has always been a visor lady. Her hair still spills out of it, as it always has, but now it’s a mélange of silver, gray, blonde and white. She was dressed in black and white. She uses a claw putting grip.

“Does it help?” somebody asked.

“Not really,” Davies said.

Noot rall-ee.

God bless the English. Nothing sounds ordinary, when they’re doing the talking.

As a Hall of Famer, Davies has a lifetime exemption on the LPGA Tour, as long as she plays 10 events a year. She does that every year, even though her putting game is, and let’s be polite here, not good, not really. Georgia Hall, the young English golfer, told Davies the other day that her putter head comes up too quickly after impact, but Davies reminded her that it’s easy to keep your head, and the putter head down, when you’re making putts and waiting for the sound of a falling golf ball.

Laura Davies last won an LPGA event in 2001. She won the U.S. Senior Open in 2018 by 10 shots. She made the cut at Aronimink, by a shot, by shooting 75-70, for 5-over. In the past five years, Davies has played in 15 majors and made two cuts. Her rounds at this PGA Championship were 75, 70, 75, 75. That adds up to 15-over. The winner, Sei Young Kim, was 14-under.

This won’t be Dame Laura’s final major. Whether it’s the final time she makes a cut in one only a swami can say.

The English golf legend went to the parking lot after signing her card and handed her American caddie a thick stack of U.S. notes. Cash is king. Every caddie knows that. A caddie with an English accent, a friend of Laura’s, ambled over. She’s always had a great rapport with the caddies. John Daly did, too. Davies and Daly won the 1999 JCPenney team event, in the last year it was played.

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“He’s kind of crazy,” Davies said, good-naturedly, of Daly. She was taking off her soiled white FootJoys and throwing them in the back of her SUV. She put on black flats. “I enjoy things to excess, like he does, but maybe not to that degree. But if he wasn’t the free spirit he is, he probably would never have won. He’s struggling a bit now, but he had fun. I love him.”

She spoke to a reporter about her passing anger on the course. “I was extremely angry, to say the least,” she said. “Anger is a useful emotion, if you can control it. If your golf doesn’t mean anything, you’ll never do any good. You might make a check, but you’ll never win.”

Davies said she’ll continue to play her 10 tournaments a year, to keep her LPGA status. “If I start making putts, I’ll play 30 a year,” she said.

“The trouble with me is that my game is not as good as my mind,” she said. “In my mind, I still feel like I can compete.” But the game requires putting. Too much of golf is about putting. That’s just a fact.

This week, Davies figured, she spent about $8,000 and made $8,295 in prize money.

“Plus your yellow ball,” Davies’ caddie friend said. If you were as famous as Laura Davies, somebody would pay you to play a yellow ball, too. “Your pension.”

“Don’t mind him,” Dame Laura said. “He’s very rude.”

Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at Michael_Bamberger@GOLF.com

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Michael Bamberger

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Michael Bamberger writes for GOLF Magazine and GOLF.com. Before that, he spent nearly 23 years as senior writer for Sports Illustrated. After college, he worked as a newspaper reporter, first for the (Martha’s) Vineyard Gazette, later for The Philadelphia Inquirer. He has written a variety books about golf and other subjects, the most recent of which is The Second Life of Tiger Woods. His magazine work has been featured in multiple editions of The Best American Sports Writing. He holds a U.S. patent on The E-Club, a utility golf club. In 2016, he was given the Donald Ross Award by the American Society of Golf Course Architects, the organization’s highest honor.