Baylor's Davis back, better after heartbreak at NCAAs

By Ryan LavnerNovember 2, 2015, 8:46 pm

ATLANTA – The morning after she lost the NCAA Championship, Hayley Davis didn’t lock herself in her hotel room, or console her Baylor teammates, or dwell on what could have been. She boarded a flight to Australia.

Technically, it was a pre-scheduled study abroad program for her human health performance and recreational services major, but it proved to be the perfect antidote to the most traumatic moment of her career.

College golf fans won’t soon forget Davis.   

The 22-year-old was the heart and soul of a Baylor team that no one expected to reach the NCAA finals against Stanford. She later became the focal point of the Bears’ title pursuit, after the first four singles matches split at two points apiece at Concession Golf Club.

Clinging to a 1-up lead over Stanford’s Mariah Stackhouse, Davis authored one of the most memorable shots in college golf history, after her drive on the 16th hole kicked back into the hazard after she took an aggressive line off the tee.

“When I was walking up to the ball,” she said Monday, “I didn’t know where it was. It could have been in the water; it could have been anywhere. But as soon as I saw it, I said to myself: Wow, I’ve been given a chance here, and I can take it.

“The only shot I could even think about was the 8-iron at the hole. It wasn’t even an option to chip out or play right of the pin. I kind of love those shots where you’re like, ummmm, I don’t know what’s going to happen here.”

The ball was above her feet. The tall fescue grass was right in front of her. Her feet were sinking in the mud. And she struck it absolutely perfectly, the ball landing softly in the middle of the green, scaring the hole and settling 7 feet past the cup. The birdie gave her what seemed like an insurmountable 2-up lead with two to play.

“It was the best shot I’ve ever seen,” Baylor coach Jay Goble said. “Under the circumstances, to be able to pull off a shot like that, it truly shows how unreal she is. I think sometimes she doesn’t even realize that she could be the best there is out there, if she really wanted it.”

But the match was far from over. Stackhouse won the 17th with a two-putt birdie. She won the 18th too, with a dramatic 15-footer, to force overtime.

The match appeared destined for a second playoff hole. Then Davis shoved a 4-foot par putt.

Stanford’s players, gathered behind the green, shrieked with joy. Baylor’s gasped in disbelief. The Bears’ team leader had faltered, and now she was broken, drifting back toward the woods and collapsing onto the ground in tears.

After a half hour, Davis emerged and gave an emotional interview. “I don’t know if I’ll ever get over it completely,” she said.

It all happened so fast, and soon the players went their separate ways. The night of the NCAA finals, Davis’ mother booked the flight to Australia. The next morning, Davis was gone.  

“The best thing probably anybody could do,” Goble said.

Davis traveled around the country, camping on the beach for three weeks. She brought her golf clubs, because she was traveling straight from NCAAs, but never took them out of their travel case. Surrounded by 20 other students from Baylor and Texas A&M, she was just a normal 22-year-old. The group knew nothing of the recent heartbreak she had endured.

Back home, no one could get ahold of Davis either – the Wi-Fi service was too spotty. For the better part of three weeks, she was completely off the grid.

“It was really hard for me to deal with,” she said. “Getting away from everything kind of helped me be able to talk about it and properly reflect and understand what had really happened.”

Goble checked in only once or twice during the summer, but he wasn’t concerned about the player who had single-handedly altered the trajectory of the program during her four years in school.   

“She was the best person in the world to handle that,” he said. “For a lot of other people, that would probably destroy them. For Hayley, it’s only going to make her better. She’s different than everybody else.”

It wasn’t until Davis returned to Waco in mid-July, after the first stage of LPGA Q-School, that she finally talked with Goble about the events at Concession, about how many messages they had received from those in the community. By that point, Davis had come to appreciate the bigger picture, that underdog Baylor had its best season in program history and nearly won an NCAA title.

Davis is back with the Bears now, but in a different role, as a student assistant. With only six hours left to complete her degree in the spring, she has been working out with the team on Mondays and Thursdays and then practicing on Fridays as she tries to keep her game sharp for the final stage of Q-School. 

The Bears could use her guidance. Reeling from the loss of All-American sophomore Dylan Kim, who recently underwent hip surgery and is likely out for the season, they have yet to finish inside the top 10. Here at the East Lake Cup, Baylor is ranked 70th; the other three women’s teams are all in the top six.

“Hayley changes the atmosphere for our team when she’s in the room,” Goble said. “They practice better. They work out better. They’re in a more competitive frame of mind.”

More than that extra dose of aggressiveness, Davis also brings an added level of perspective. After all, she faced the most pressure possible in college golf: Playing for herself, her family, her teammates, her school, she won and lost the decisive match. She will carry that experience with her forever.

“I always wanted to be a part of something historic,” she said, “and to have this happen during my senior year, during my final semester, was unbelievable. I’m better for it.”

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.