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JIM MURRAY

Long Drives Not Her Only Asset

March 27, 1994|JIM MURRAY

RANCHO MIRAGE — Everyone knows the longest hitter of the ball is this big blond young basher who hits the ball out of the county and has this powerful, full-turn backswing that takes the club back so far from parallel that it seems to go around twice or in a 380-degree arc. Hits the ball regularly 80 to 85 yards past the competition with shots that have the hang time of a hot-air balloon. Galleries come from three fairways over simply to gawk and marvel and ooh and aah.

It's good for the game to have this belting blond bomber. You know how Americans love home-run hitters, knockout artists, three-point shooters, strikeout pitchers. The small sneaky skills bore them. They don't want fancy boxers, ballplayers who hit-em-where-they-ain't, pitchers throwing junk. They want King Kong, not King Lear.

In golf, too, no one goes to see a good putter. But they stand three-deep when this big gun gets ready to fire. It's every player's dream. I mean, ever see a guy at a driving range practicing chips?

Of course, this player is young. Perhaps has a lot to learn. Hasn't won too much on tour yet. But hopefully will. Needs maturing.

John Daly? Who said anything about John Daly?!

Look! How far would John Daly be bashing it out there if he had to play in a skirt? If he had to spend the morning at the hairdresser's? If he couldn't make up his mind what to wear?

John Daly got a driver in his hand as soon as he was old enough to walk. Our candidate grew up playing with dolls, not nine-irons. She didn't learn to make a putt, she learned to make a bed. She did her ironing with on a board, not a fairway.

But Ms. Laura Davies learned to hit a ball as far as Master Daly all the same. She is the resident ballistic missile launcher of the ladies tour. The Human Cape Canaveral. She doesn't yell "Fore!" she yells "Lift off!" You don't watch her ball, you track it. An identified flying object entering orbit.

Ms. Davies is one of the Queen's Own. An M.B.E. (Member of the British Empire) dubbed by Her Majesty herself. One step up and she becomes "Dame Laura Davies" or "Her Ladyship." She is so British she sounds like Margaret Thatcher. Her conversation is sprinkled with "I should thinks," and "I dare say," and a lot of "as wells." Saturday and Sunday are referred to as the "wee-kend."

It is entirely possible she hits the ball farther than any woman ever did and, maybe, most men. Her drives this week at the Nabisco Dinah Shore at Mission Hills have been stepped off at 284 and 290.

Her game is really too big for the ladies tour. She used a two-iron to tee off at three par-fives in Friday's second round. She used a five-iron off the 375-yard par-four on Saturday. She reached the 526-yard 18th with a drive and two-iron on Saturday. The best guess is, the drive was 296.

It's possible the ladies' tour is too short for her. She led off nine holes with a two-iron on Friday. "If she used a driver off the tee--and kept it in the fairway--the rest of us would be playing for second most of the time," Nancy Lopez says.

Says Laura: "If we played back where the men play, I could let it fly. But the way the courses are set up for us, you will only hit the ball into places where the fairway narrows or there are traps or trouble and a poor angle to the green."

Davies plays a game shackled, in a sense. Like DiMaggio forced to hit a cotton ball. When you can hit a ball 296 yards but discretion dictates you tee off with a five-iron on a 375-yard hole, you are playing the game in an iron corset, a straitjacket. Daly has plenty of use for his driver and it has scars all over it. Davies' driver looks like it recently came out of the cellophane.

It is an axiom of golf that those who hit the ball a long way off the tee usually can't do much else. The golf books are full of long knockers who never won much but the long-drive contests. Daly, for all his charisma, has won only two tournaments. He gets the gallery, someone else gets the cup. Around golf, they like the story of hotshot, long-hitting young neophyte who got in a game with the great Ben Hogan and was outdriving him on every hole. Ben said nothing. Finally the kid couldn't stand it any longer after 16 holes.

"Mr. Hogan, what do you think of my game?" he wanted to know. Hogan was startled. "Which part?" he asked. "Well, my driving," said the kid. "Your ball runs too much," Hogan told him.

The lesson is not lost. Golf is not how you hit it, it's where you hit it.

Davies would feel more comfortable back on the black tees.

Does Lady Laura become merely John Daly in skirts, another longballer, a one-purpose crowd pleaser who can do one thing well, like a guy who can do tricks with a deck of cards but cannot win at poker?

Davies is giving evidence she is not out there as a trick-shot artist. She is coming off a victory at last week's Ping Standard Register Open at Phoenix (her fifth) and at the close of business at the Dinah Shore on Saturday, she was only one shot off the lead at nine under.

Milady has no intention of letting the Empire down. She has no desire to be a sideshow on the women's tour. She wants to be a factor, not a freak.

If she gets any longer she will be able to play only north-and-south in England. And they should enter her in the Masters so she can turn to Daly and say, "You're away, John."

* ANDREWS LEADS: C4

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