Davis gives youngsters run for their money
IT HASN'T exactly been turn back the clock week at the West Virginia Open.
Not with 20- and 30-somethings like Craig Berner, Christian Brand, Jonathan Clark and David Bradshaw dropping birdies and topping the leaderboard at Edgewood Country Club in Sissonville.
However, if you look closely, this year's golf tournament does grant one concession to age.
Teeing off in the second-to-last group at 10:33 a.m. today will be Hurricane's Scott Davis, who is all of 56 years old.
Davis is one of nine golfers in the 120-player field whose name appears on the leaderboard in red numbers - as in under par - heading into the final round of the 54-hole event. He stands at 1-under 141 after shooting a 2-over 73 in Thursday's stifling heat.
So how old is Davis?
He's so old, his high school doesn't exist anymore. Triadelphia was swallowed up in the Wheeling Park consolidation in 1976.
He's so old, it's been exactly 30 years - 30 years! - since he burst onto the state golfing scene by capturing the 1982 State Open in his hometown at Wheeling Country Club as a mere 26-year-old.
He added three more titles through the years - 1990 (Bridgeport CC), 1995 (Canaan Valley Resort) and 1998 (Edgewood CC) - to go along with the State Amateur crown he took in 1978.
Yes, Davis has been around for a while. And he plans to be around for a while longer.
"I sure do remember [the first win],'' Davis said shortly after finishing Thursday's round. "I remember all the wins. I remember the win here. It's fun, still being able to compete.
"My ball striking is still very good. If it wasn't for a few mistakes today . . . I double-bogeyed 17. I had a nice drive - tried to draw it off that right bunker and it hit fairway and jumped right, right up in there. I had to chop out on the fairway, so I made double-bogey. So if I don't make that mistake, and my two three-putts, I'm 5 under and I'm in the championship [contention].''
Davis gave a glimpse of his still-considerable skills in Wednesday's first round, knocking in four birdies during a round of 3-under 68 that put him in a tie for third.
Somehow, he has been able to maintain his competitive edge through all the years.
Take a look at the five-year period before he won his first Open and the five years immediately after (1977-87). Of the nine golfers who won titles in that stretch, only two (Harold Payne, Barry Fleming) are still competing in the State Open, and only one of those (Payne) also made the cut.
Davis has outlasted all of his contemporaries.
"I think I have,'' he said. "I love competing. My whole life's been competing, so I tried to stay in shape and eat the right foods. I want to continue to compete until I'm 62, hopefully. We'll see. My ball-striking's good enough, and my short game's getting better. My short game's improved over these years, so that's helped me.''
Davis, once a feared long hitter, admits to a few allowances to age.
"I had to change my ball flight,'' he said. "When I was strong and young like these guys, I could hit a cut. Now I have to hit a draw to get a little more yardage.''
He's also used a long putter "for a lot of years,'' and acknowledges the fact that excessive heat like the Open golfers have seen this week likely affects him more than the youngsters pounding the ball down the fairways.
"But it wasn't the heat at all,'' he said of Thursday's 73. "I was a little disappointed.
"I should have shot at the worst, probably, 70. I could have had 68 very easily. It's golf. A couple little bounces, a couple little things all the time. When you're playing good, those little bounces [favor you]. But I'm hitting the ball well, so you never know.''
Davis, more than most golfers, has sustained his success over a longer period.
His gap of 17 tournaments between his first and most recent Open title is by far the most of any repeat player in this year's field - David Bradshaw's six titles have come in an eight-tournament stretch (2004-11), Brad Westfall's five over 12 tourneys (1992-2003), Payne's four in eight tourneys (1986-93) and John Ross' two in three tourneys (1997-99).
Davis was a club professional for 25 years, many of them at Edgewood, and now teaches the game and gets to play some, appearing in Tri-State PGA events.
"I've had the opportunity to play in six majors,'' he said, "and I just got back from playing in the Senior PGA Championship.
"When you get to this age, you appreciate things more. I enjoyed that time so much, being around those great players, and just being there. When you're young, you think, 'I can do this. I can do that.' Now I enjoy it more.''
One more thing he'll enjoy is being introduced for today's final round as a participant in one of the last threesomes to tee off.
"I'm proud of that for a 56-year-old man,'' Davis said with a smile. "I'll be there hanging with them.''
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or email@example.com.