I have no idea whether South Korea’s Jiyai Shin knew the ins and outs of Dame Laura Davies’ win in the 1987 US Women’s Open when she made the following remark about this one-off of a UK golfer: “It’s as well for Laura that she wasn’t born a Korean.”
Certainly, no one else in Laura’s position in a major would have tackled the Sunday of that week at Plainfield Country Club in New Jersey the way she did.
The then-Women’s British Open champion was one shot behind Japan’s Ayako Okamoto on Saturday night and all set for the final lap when Sunday morning resounded to the clatter of one of those all-American thunderstorms, the magnitude of which was on a different scale to any Laura would have known back home. At 11:30, play had to be suspended and when, eventually, the rain stopped, water had gathered on several greens and there was nothing for it other than to delay play until Monday.
While the rest of the field – and it was peppered with players who were pestering officialdom to let them practise – hung around waiting for the “all clear” to use the practice ground, Laura did not hang about. She got into her car, drove past all those queuing competitors and headed for a nearby shopping mall.
As it turned out, the nearest she got to playing any golf that day was to engage in a putting contest down a hotel corridor with her brother, Tony, who was carrying her bag that week, and her cousin, Matthew. The latter, incidentally, is well worth a mention in that he was at one point hit on the forehead by a Laura tee shot. Far from worrying about the injury, he was proud to show off what was a dramatically expanding lump.
… the programme for that US Open had said of this long-distance (509 yards) par-5: “This (17th) hole will require three well-played shots,” Laura reached it in two — as, indeed, she had done on the third day.
On to the Monday, when Laura slipped to three behind Ayako in the space of the first three holes. There would no doubt have been the odd murmur among her sister players as to how she might have been wishing she had practised the day before, but Laura looks forward rather than back. She was waiting to make up ground at the next par-5 and, as befits a good competitor, she was not entertaining any thoughts as to how Ayako might crack.
Yet crack she did, taking a four-putt 6 at the ninth to Laura’s birdie 3 and having a mishap at the 13th such as to have the Japanese photographers practically freezing over their cameras. Though these loyal supporters had taken it for granted that their player would pot the 2½-footer, which would take her back to two ahead, she not only missed that one but also missed the next.
JoAnne Carner, meantime, was starting her charge and very likely would have won that US Women’s Open (she had bagged the 1971 and 1976 editions) but for her three putts from the back of the home green. Laura, for her part, had better luck when she approached that swirling surface, making a knee-knocker of a 4-footer – “the best putt I’ve ever made” — for 71 and the 3-under-par aggregate which ensured her place in Tuesday’s 18-hole play-off with Jo-Anne and Ayako.
It would not have done Laura’s play-off chances any harm that both her rivals were self-confessed members of the Laura Davies Fan Club. Speaking on the Sunday night, Ayako said, “She is maybe the best golfer I have ever met. I played with her in each of the last two rounds and I was left feeling that I wasn’t on the same plane as she is.”
As for JoAnne, she had been marvelling at Laura’s strength and would confess later to how, in the playoff, she was “lost in admiration” when it came to her long hitting: “I was trying not to pay any attention to her but, damn it, my curiosity got the better of me.”
The all-important play-off hole was the 15th. Though Laura was two in front of Ayako and three clear of JoAnne at the time, she was likely three putts from the hole where both her rivals had 8-footers. To a startled roar (and “startled” was the only word for it because Laura was hitting her putts far too hard for spectator comfort) she holed and, as you will have guessed, the others missed.
The 17th was Laura being Laura. Though the man penning the programme for that US Open had said of this long-distance (509 yards) par-5: “This hole will require three well-played shots,” Laura reached it in two — as, indeed, she had done on the third day.
Carner, visibly stunned that anyone in the position that Laura was in would not have played safe, shook her head and called across to her, “Why?”
“No brains,” came the reply.
The US Open’s first English winner went on to close with 71, which left her two ahead of Ayako and three clear of JoAnne and, as the last putt dropped, so Laura’s father, Dave, extinguished the last of what he reckoned was the equivalent of a year’s worth of cigarettes.
His daughter would win three more majors after that Plainfield triumph besides capturing two senior majors, one as recently as 2018. And, across all the years she has never failed to amuse, delight – and sometimes shock.
To tell the tale which had the aforementioned Jiyai Shin saying that it was as well she had not been born a Korean, this great Dame once contrived to watch an admittedly important game of football (England versus Spain) on a miniature TV when she was in mid-round at the 1996 Evian Championship.
How did she get on in the tournament? She won, of course.
Top photo: Laura Davies watches the flight of her ball during the 1987 U.S. Women’s Open (Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!
Tell us how we can improve this post?