Golfer Laura Davies on Women on the Fairway: 'There Were Few of Us Girls Back Then'
In an interview, British female golf legend Laura Davies discusses her professional career on the green, the age difference between the veteran golfer and her much younger competitors, her no nonsense approach to the sport and a major gender gap that still persists today.
Laura Davies, 48, is a pioneer in women's golf and counts among the most successful players in the sport. The self-taught British golfer first began a professional career in 1985. So far, she has won 81 tournaments and collected about $9 million in prize money. She has been honored by Queen Elizabeth II twice for her achievements, most recently in 2000 with the title of Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.
Davies sat down with SPIEGEL to discuss the three decades she has spent on the fairway at the top of her game.
SPIEGEL: Mrs. Davies, the world elite in women's golf consists of numerous young players. It is you, however, who is right at the center of the scene.
Davies: I am a little different, yes.
SPIEGEL: A host of players come from Asia, along with girls from America and Europe, who stroll across the green like models. You, on the other hand, are not exactly super slim, you like to wear comfortable waistcoats, and you give the impression of coming from a bygone era. What role do you play in this field?
Davies: I don't play any role; I just play golf. I love the competition. For me, the pleasure begins on Thursday morning when a tournament starts. I come along and try to win. And that's what I enjoy.
SPIEGEL: Most of your competitors hadn't even been born when you turned professional. Do you feel comfortable among them?
Davies: I have very few close friends left on the circuit; almost all of them have retired. Many golfers are in their early twenties, but I'm in my late forties. The difference has become too great for us to spend our evenings together. Among the younger players, it's all about golf: playing, training, talking about it. That bores me. Perhaps that's the reason why I am still at it: I haven't worn myself out.
SPIEGEL: How much has women's golf changed?
Davies: These days it's much more about fitness, diet and all the trappings. You could call that more professional, but I call it more fussy. It is no longer just a matter of golf, but of the paraphernalia. If a player needs that -- she's welcome to it. I can do without it.
SPIEGEL: When you see a player like the 26-year-old American Paula Creamer, who likes playing in pink and carries a Pink Panther doll around with her, what do you think of that?
Davies: Why not? Long hair, short skirts, the girls like this image and try to make money with it. What they wear, how they behave, it's all part of the business. Television and advertising have changed a great many things. In the old days, we used to make our money on the course. Now your market value is decided elsewhere.
SPIEGEL: Do the girls ever ask you what things used to be like?
Davies: No, they're not really interested in that.
SPIEGEL: What advantage do you still have over them?
Davies: I have won a great many tournaments. I know how to win. Experience counts a lot in golf. That makes it all the more surprising how quickly some young players become winners.
SPIEGEL: How do you explain the wave of top-class of female golfers that is surging in from Asia, especially from South Korea?
Davies: They are different from American women, quiet. They would never say that they are about to win. But they subordinate everything to success. Their parents accompany them. They have a fitness trainer, coach, manager. And they practice a heck of a lot -- so much that they can't keep it up for long. After a few years, they disappear again. And then the next ones turn up.
SPIEGEL: You yourself don't seem to think much of practicing hard.
Davies: Some people practice just for the sake of practicing, and don't get any better. My advice to women like that is: Do less, relax, have trust in your talent. At least, that's what worked for me.
Davies: My game is very natural. I can pick up a club after the winter break and make a good shot straight away. Very few people can do that. I may not look like it, but I'm quite a good athlete -- with a talent for various sports. I play football, tennis and cricket well too.
SPIEGEL: When you started out in your career, newspapers referred to you as "the big blonde bombshell". Nowadays, the press calls you the "grande dame of golfing". Has it been a tough road?
Davies: I've simply grown older, and I have achieved results.
SPIEGEL: Didn't the idea of being laughed at worry you?
Davies: I ignored it as far as I was able to. I didn't read the nice things that were said about me, so I didn't find out what sort of nonsense was being written either.
SPIEGEL: What actually got you into golfing in the first place?
Davies: I was 14 years old. During the summer holidays I accompanied my brother Tony. He played a lot. I was interested in golf because you could play it on your own, without a team or a partner like in tennis. You can hit long balls in the driving range for 10 hours, without talking to anyone. And if you like, you can play a round on the course with your best friends.
SPIEGEL: You never had a golf instructor. Why not?
Davies: I was never particularly good at listening to people who tried to tell me what to do or not to do. I watched the pros on television and tried to copy their strokes and learn from that. That was easy for me. I have no idea whether my swing meets the classical criteria. Anyhow, it's good enough to be successful.
SPIEGEL: Before you became a professional golfer, you were an amateur for five years. What was your life like back then?
Davies: I left school when I was 16, with the clear intention that one day I would play professionally. At the time you couldn't go professional at such a young age; nowadays it is no longer unusual. There were a few of us girls back then, and we were in no hurry.
SPIEGEL: How did you earn your living?
Davies: I worked during the winter in order to be able to play in the summer. One year I worked at a petrol station, one year at a bookie's, behind the counter, and three years in a supermarket, at the till.
SPIEGEL: Did professional women's golf already exist back then?
Davies: There were a surprising number of tournaments, but everything was very much in its infancy. During my first year as a professional I played 21 tournaments in Europe, in my second there were 26. After that, in 1987, I went to America and won the US Open straight off. I was 23 at the time, an age that sounds old today. My brother went with me and stayed on for five years as my caddy. My mother wanted him to look after me. Traveling to America was a big deal back then.
SPIEGEL: In tennis, the prize money for women and men is almost equal. But in golf, women earn a lot less. Is that going to change?
Davies: I hope so. So far, I have won $9 million, but a man with my victories would have made about $40 million. I don't understand why the gap is so big. The athletic skill and the entertainment value are similar. The only difference is that our tee shots don't go as far.
SPIEGEL: In 2016, golf is going to be one of the competitions at the Summer Olympics for the first time. Is taking part in Rio de Janeiro a potential goal for you?
Davies: By then I will be 52. Should someone aged 52 still be participating in the Olympic Games? I'll think about it in three years' time.
Interview conducted by Detlef Hacke
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