We’ve seen young ones before, so many in fact that we’re almost anesthetized to the latest teen teeing off in a professional event, especially in the women’s game. Last month Alexa Pano turned pro at 17 with marginal fanfare. Not that Pano isn’t worth watching – she’s a fine player, good enough to earn Epson Tour status for the rest of 2022 – but “teenager turns pro” is a “dog bites man” story at the LPGA these days.
However, something is different about Anna Davis, the 16-year-old from Southern California who played in her first LPGA Tour event as an amateur last week at the Palos Verdes Championship, a wedge shot from the Pacific in the hills just south of Los Angeles. Two months ago, even the most ardent golf fan had never heard of Davis. In fact, there were American Junior Golf Association board members who knew nothing about her until paired with her in Junior-Am where the girl “shot the easiest 66 you’ve ever seen and didn’t miss a shot.” Then, in a matter of what seems like days, she became the talk of Tinseltown, a super-cool left-hander with a quick wit, an easy smile, and a comfort level not often found in anyone under 21.
“She is a golf savant,” Stephen Hamblin, the AJGA executive director, said of Davis at the Golf Writers Association of America dinner in Augusta on the Wednesday of Masters week. “It’s really hard to define the ‘It’ factor, but I’ve been (around juniors) long enough to have seen it a few times in players like Tiger and Phil and some others. Anna has it. She has no fear, no intimidation; she hits every shot with this perfect little 1-yard draw, no matter what the situation.”
Davis never looked uncomfortable; she never seemed rushed or pressured. She looked as if she could have been playing a casual match with her twin brother.
The situation in Palos Verdes was something new for the teenager. Her only other LPGA Tour experience came last year at the JTBC Classic at Aviara, a short drive from her home, where she played in the pro-am with Lizette Salas. She was also one iron shot away from playing in the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions in January in Orlando. That’s because the winner of the Annika Invitational, the week before the LPGA Tour season opener and just up the road from Lake Nona, got a spot in the celebrity field. Davis lost that one in a playoff to a hole-out eagle from 75 yards.
Three months later, she became a star at Augusta National on the Saturday before the Masters. Wearing a bucket hat and a pearl necklace – a style that would have fit in Arnold Palmer’s gallery in 1960 – Davis shot 69 in the final round of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur to beat two of the best college players in the world and become the youngest winner (and first left-hander) to claim what is fast becoming the most important women’s amateur event in the world. In doing so, as Hamblin said, Davis never looked uncomfortable; she never seemed rushed or pressured. She looked as if she could have been playing a casual match with her twin brother.
Turns out that’s the way she’s looked throughout the most successful season of her career. In the last 13 months, she has three wins in World Amateur Golf Ranking events, as well as seven other top-five finishes and a spot in the Ping Junior Solheim Cup.
“The thing about her that’s unique today is that her parents don’t travel with her that often,” Hamblin said. “What you’re seeing is not a kid living out the goals of a dad or mom. She’s a mature young lady doing her own thing.”
The Tiger and Phil comparisons get thrown around a lot, often with disappointing results, but if you spend a couple of minutes with Davis, you get the sense that she has the quiet confidence found in champions of all sports. The confident grin reminds you of Peyton Manning. The personal sense of style is Jordanesque (Michael, not Spieth).
First LPGA tournament complete! ✅
We know Anna Davis is looking forward to the next event 😂 pic.twitter.com/1eK6Dqxf3t
— LPGA (@LPGA) May 1, 2022
All of those traits were on display in Palos Verdes last week where she didn’t show any signs of nerves. Davis played her last three holes on Friday with an eagle, birdie and par to make the cut by one, and while she struggled on Sunday with a 76 to end the week 7-over par and finish 70th, there were plenty of bright spots. This isn’t likely to be the last time we see her, either. Her ANWA win earned her entries into the U.S. Women’s Open and the AIG Women’s Open. She also said, “I got a few calls for some (other) LPGA events and stuff like that, so I’m looking forward to playing in those.”
“I’m not that nervous,” Davis said with a shrug and a smile. “I’m kind of just trying to treat (this LPGA Tour start) as any other event. Just trying to have fun out here.”
When asked about her preternatural coolness, Davis didn’t change her demeanor at all. Nor did she sense any irony, as a 16-year-old, when she attributed her calm disposition to “experience.”“Especially this last year, I’ve had tons of experience with junior golf and some am events, and I think that’s really all that it is,” she said. “It’s just having a good mentality. You can’t take it too seriously to the point where you’re just getting mad on the golf course. It’s supposed to be fun. You have to treat it that way.”
We’ve seen this before. It shouldn’t go unnoticed that Davis made her LPGA Tour debut during the same week when Lydia Ko turned 25 years old. Ko, who won her first tour event at age 15 and, at 17, was the youngest player in history, man or woman, to reach No. 1 in the world, gave off the same vibe as a kid.
“I didn’t expect to play an LPGA event at such a young age, so it’s very exciting,” Davis said. “It’s been one of my goals for a really long time. I think it’s pretty cool.”
So is Davis. Let’s hope she stays that way.
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