Sunday, May 20, 2018

Laura Davies makes LPGA Legends Tour debut at Innisbrook

PALM HARBOR — British golfer Laura Davies has amassed 81 victories and won four majors during her 28-year professional career. One of her favorite memories happened at Innisbrook in 1999.

That year, Davies, known for her prodigious drives, teamed with PGA Tour big hitter John Daly to capture the final mixed-team JCPenney Classic on Innisbrook's Copperhead Course.

Davies rolled in a 30-foot birdie putt on the third playoff hole to beat the pairing of Paul Azinger and Se Ri Pak for the championship. The tournament, which paired an LPGA pro with a PGA pro, was discontinued after that season.

"That was a huge moment for me, playing with John Daly and against so many great golfers," Davies said. "When you can go and win the tournament, it's icing on the cake."

Davies returns to Innisbrook this weekend, walking a few hundred paces over to the resort's Island Course, where she will join 43 colleagues at the LPGA Legends Tour's Open Championship.

Davies is making her debut on the tour for professionals 45 and older.

"It just worked out that this (tournament) was in a place I really liked," said Davies, 49, who needs one victory in a major or two regular LPGA Tour wins to enter the World Golf Hall of Fame. "I thought, 'Why not? Let's do it.' "

Tour president and CEO Jane Blalock said adding Davies to the roster, which includes Hall of Famers Pat Bradley, Nancy Lopez and Beth Daniel, gives extra credibility to the tour.

"She is a magical name," Blalock said. "Everyone knows Laura Davies. She's a personality, not just in the women's game but in the game of golf."

Davies' go-for-broke mentality and ebullient personality have long made her a fan favorite on the LPGA Tour, along with her ability to pack a wallop.

"I think people come out to watch her because she hits it so darn far," said Lopez, who shot 7 over at last year's Open Championship to tie for 11th. "She's a character. She's got personality. She's a great little player. I think for her to come play with us is great. I'm looking forward to seeing her. I haven't seen her for a while."

The two-day Open Championship, the longest-running and last stop on the Legend Tour's eight-event schedule, is a reunion of sorts for the game's greats.

Most players stay at Innisbrook rather than an outside hotel. They eat dinner with one another after their rounds and hang out at night to reminisce. This year is the fourth straight year the Open Championship is at Innisbrook.

"We're not playing for a huge amount of money," Daniel said. "It's more about seeing people and keeping in touch with one another."

Davies hasn't had a tournament victory in two years, her last coming at the Indian Open on the European Tour in 2010, capping a season in which she won five titles.

Davies is looking forward to catching up with others this weekend, too. But she'd rather snap the longest winless drought of her career.

"This tournament is more relaxed than the main tournaments with old friends getting back together," said Davies, who tees off at 11 this morning with Patty Sheehan. "But it's still competitive.

"You never lose that competitive edge when you get out on the course. I've been playing really well, not scoring well at the moment but playing well. Sometimes you just need that bit of luck at the right time."