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GOLF / DINAH SHORE TOURNAMENT : Davies Driving on Road to Success

March 23, 1995|THOMAS BONK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

RANCHO MIRAGE — Laura Davies doesn't simply drive the ball; she chauffeurs it, usually into another time zone. When she hits the ball off the tee, it's going places, and now so may be the woman with that driver in her hands.

Standing 5 feet 10 and as solidly built as the lorries back home in West Byfleet, England, Davies is unchallenged as the biggest hitter on the LPGA tour.

Davies said that whacking the ball the way she does has turned out to be sound strategy.

"I like to be hitting, attacking, aggressive," she said.

Her reputation precedes her. When a sports headline in the Desert Sun this week said "Big Bopper," there was no confusion about whom it was talking about.

Hitting the ball a long way is a style perfectly suited for scoring well in golf, and Davies has done a lot of that recently with four victories in the last 12 months.

Davies did it by hitting the ball the hard way.

The Nabisco Dinah Shore, the first major on the tour, begins today at Mission Hills, where Davies might be the player to beat.

That's because whenever Davies tees it up, she's usually the player to beat. Last week, she won the Standard Register Ping title at Phoenix, her 10th victory in less than eight years.

Donna Andrews, who is defending her title this week, said Davies is something special.

"I think she's a super player," Andrews said. "You watch the way she hits it, and you wonder why she doesn't win every week. She has the game to win every week, and not many have."

Davies finished tied for sixth, fourth and tied for 20th in three other tournaments this year. She is first in birdies, tied for first in top-10 finishes, first in driving distance, second on the money list and third in scoring.

"It wears you down when you have to play against her," Andrews said. "And for such a strong player to have such finesse around the greens is just incredible."

Since Davies' instinct is to be aggressive, it is interesting to note that she lost a chance to win here last year when she became cautious on the final hole.

Davies had a one-shot lead over Andrews at No. 18, a par five with an island green that Davies had reached in two shots twice before in the tournament. But this time, she pushed a four-iron off the tee into the right rough.

She recovered with another four-iron, then left her approach shot 60 feet from the hole and three-putted for bogey. Andrews won it with a six-footer for birdie.

Davies didn't second-guess herself.

"If I had made it, everyone would have said, 'Oh, what clever strategy,' " Davies said. "You've got to try to play this course aggressively. That's the way I play best. When I try to play smart golf, it usually doesn't pay off."

Anyway, she has another chance to bag her third major. Davies won the U.S. Open in 1987 at 23 and won the LPGA Championship last year.

But in a minor surprise, Davies said she doesn't regard a major tournament as, well, a major, mainly to protect herself mentally from a letdown if she doesn't win.

"For me, it's just another tournament," she said. "Everyone has got this thing about majors. You have to win majors or you're a failure. I think that's a lot of rubbish."

Golf Notes

Beth Daniel has three runner-up finishes this year, but is the leading money winner with $183,041. . . . Donna Andrews is battling a problem with the muscles around her rib cage, but that's not what is worrying her. "I just wish my golf game was up to where I want it to be," she said. Andrews has missed the last two cuts. . . . It's the Hall of Fame Derby this week. If Daniel, Betsy King or Amy Alcott win, that golfer gets in. King and Alcott are one victory short of the 30 required for players with two different major victories and Daniel is short by one major title.

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