The competitive fires still rage for Laura Davies. Maybe not for her own game, which has recently traumatised her to the extent that she is considering retirement after 38 years as a professional golfer, but certainly for this week’s Solheim Cup.
“When it began, I never thought for a moment it would ever become as big as this,” Davies, 59, says. “And no, I probably didn’t think Europe would have the chance to beat the Americans three times in succession, either.”
Britain’s greatest-ever female golfer was there at the start. Right at the start. She and fellow Englishwoman Alison Nicholas beat Pat Bradley and Nancy Lopez in the opening foursomes at the inaugural Solheim Cup in 1990.
If it is possible to have “huge upsets” in 18-hole matchplay, then this was it and set the stage for the female equivalent of the Ryder Cup to forge its own reputation for transatlantic giant-killings. However, for Davies the resonance hardly overflowed.
“It was fun but, honestly, it didn’t really feel that big,” she says. “There weren’t many fans at Lake Nona [the Orlando venue] and it wasn’t even on TV. There were only eight players on each side and there didn’t seem a lot of interest. We got roundly beaten and you did worry if it had any future. And 33 years later, here we are. It has exploded. It gets massive crowds and amazing viewing figures on TV.
“It’s great that we have these two weeks [with the Ryder Cup taking place in Rome next week] on the Continent and there has been plenty of chat that this can raise the Solheim’s profile. I’m not so sure. It seems big enough from my point of view. It is probably the biggest week in women’s golf anyway.”
Davies’s status in the Solheim Cup’s rise is assured. She played in the first 12, which remains a record for appearances, and compiled 25 points – also a record. She was the standout performer in 1992 at Dalmahoy, winning all her matches in a Europe victory that was seen as vital for the Solheim’s short-term survival. “We were enormous underdogs and had no right to be on the same fairways as them, so that was huge for Europe and the prosperity of the match as a whole.”
Davies, more than anyone, kept those first dozen cups as competitive as possible by losing only 18 of 46 games. Then, after the triumph in 2011 she was ditched with barely an outcry. “I thought I’d get in for 2013 but Liselotte [Neumann] rang to say I wasn’t and the team won its first away match in Denver. If I’d have played, Europe wouldn’t have won. I don’t know why I wasn’t involved at all in 2015 and 2017. The captains [Carin Koch and Annika Sorenstam] would have had good reasons.”
Except Davies was involved in 2015 and her words in the Sky Sports commentary box for that match in Germany makes her role in Spain as one of Suzann Pettersen’s vice-captains all the more unlikely.
Davies acted as the European conscience in the “Gimmegate” controversy that saw Pettersen claim a hole off Alison Lee, saying she had not conceded a 16-incher to the weeping rookie. “I’m disgusted,” Davies said. “How Suzann can justify that I will never, ever know. She has let herself down and she has certainly let her team down. I’m so glad I’m not on that team.”
Davies says now: “I stand by that. And Suzann, although she has apologised over the years, stands by the fact that she stood firm because, as she has explained to me since, Alison had already been warned about it.
“We have never had a cross word about it and it’s all water under the bridge. You never want to win a game like that, but there have been plenty of controversies over the years and that’s what happens in the passion of the Solheim.
“Last time we had the Americans being awarded a hole after Madelene [Sagstrom] picked up Nelly Korda’s ball without waiting the 10 seconds for it to drop. I suppose, it’s that sort of needle that helps draw in the common sports fan. But I’d still prefer it be sporting and would much rather we didn’t have any flashpoints this time around. Especially in my games.”
Davies, who was also part of Catriona Matthew’s back-room staff in 2019, will be entrusted with overseeing the encounters of Charley Hull, Georgia Hall and Gemma Dryburgh. “I’ll just make sure they and their caddies have everything they need.
“The thing about being assistant is that you get all the fun without the responsibility. It’s always the captain who is the hero and villain. People keep asking why I haven’t been captain and the truth is, although there have been indirect approaches through my manager, I’ve never been asked directly. I’d say no anyway. I just don’t want to do it.”
Even if the match was hosted in her homeland? “Well, that might be different. It’s never been staged in England, which to me is incredible considering the players we’ve had in the Solheim and continue to have. It’s obviously about money but I’d love to see it.”
For now, Davies is concentrating on helping Pettersen try to make history with three wins in succession. “The team is probably our strongest ever and we have the home advantage. But unlike recent Ryder Cups [which has witnessed the home side winning by at least five points], the Solheim has been coming down to the last few matches and might come down to moments again. It’s not good for the heart, but the supporters love a close one.”
Another humdinger might even take Davies’s mind off her own travails on the golf course. “I think I’m done playing in anything other than senior events. It’s all in the head, as I’m hitting it OK on the range. On the first tee at the Women’s Open [at Walton Heath] last month, I couldn’t feel my legs. That’s surely a sign it’s time.
“I’m supposed to be playing my last Women’s Open at St Andrews next year and the R&A have been in touch. People have told me I must have my Swilcan Bridge moment, to wave goodbye and all that. But if I’m playing horrendously, I won’t be taking a spot off someone more deserving. That would be selfish. At this present time I’m 100 per cent that I’m not playing, but a year is a long time in golf. The Solheim shows how quickly things can change.”