There is something alarmingly nonchalant about the way Laura Davies wields a golf club or, for that matter, a snooker cue, a deck of cards, the wheel of a car or a credit card. "She makes my hair stand on end," says her mother, Rita Allen, sitting in the garden of their geranium-bordered row cottage in Ottershaw, a suburb of London. Davies has a way of ignoring the consequences of dangerous situations, whether they be debt, potential bodily harm, rough, sand, water, cart paths or cringing spectators. The thought that she might hit a bad shot or find an unplayable lie seems never to occur to her. There are two kinds of people who play games this way: youths and champions. Davies is both.
Compared to her recklessness with her bank account and her passion for speed on the road, Davies's behavior on the golf course seems restrained. Bestriding the European and American tours, the 30-year-old Davies has won three tournaments so far this year, with two seconds, a third and a fourth-place finish. This by a woman who practices "about 25 minutes" a day. "You've got to have fun," Davies says with a smile. "Otherwise this would be too much like a real job."
She takes her fun seriously. On the eve of the Evian Masters tournament in June in Évian-les-Bains, a tiny French resort village on Lake Geneva dominated by palatial hotels, most of the players lined the driving range, hitting balls into the Alpine dusk. Davies was not among them. She was in the rambling old waterfront Casino Royal, a cream-colored building with curved windows affording a view of the lake. Davies sat at a blackjack table, fingers curled around a stack of colorful chips. The casino was quiet except for the spin of wheels and the occasional sighs of gamblers.
She anted up 1,000 francs, about $185. Cards slid from the dealer's shoe and whispered across the green felt. Davies shook her head, standing pat as the dealer offered her a card. He turned over a combination of 21 for himself and swept away Davies's chips. She shrugged. She had already won about $2,300 for the night.
Davies finished 10th in the Evian tournament, disappointing by her recent standards, and earned $6,463. At the casino she broke even at blackjack and roulette, giving back most of her early winnings.
She seemed contented, but not nearly as satisfied as she had been in May when she won the McDonald's LPGA Championship in Wilmington, Del., between pilgrimages to Atlantic City. The LPGA was Davies's second win in a major, but it came seven long years after her first, at the 1987 U.S. Open in Plainfield, N.J. Then Davies was a 23-year-old whose length off the tee was the cornerstone of her game. At 5'11" and at least 180 pounds, with hulking shoulders and tree-trunk calves, she is one of the strongest players ever on the tour, but until this year her power hadn't translated into dominance. "Now she's taken the game by the scruff of the neck," says Terry Coates, the chief executive of the Women Professional Golfers' European Tour.
The win in Wilmington pushed Davies past the $450,000 mark on the 1994 LPGA circuit, so she treated herself to a racy new green BMW 850CSi. She had priced the $120,000 car in the spring after finding that her first choice for new wheels, a Ferrari Testerossa, didn't have room for golf clubs in the trunk. Her mother, who helps handle Laura's finances, told Laura she could afford the car—as long as she made $100,000 in the following weeks. "I covered it," Davies says, "and ordered the car."
Covering it meant winning back-to-back tournaments. The Sara Lee Classic in Old Hickory, Tenn., was worth $78,750, and the LPGA Championship $165,000 more. Those victories were part of a two-month streak on the American tour during which Davies finished out of the top two only once and earned $456,810.
Before turning pro in 1985, she had worked as a stock clerk in a grocery market, a gas station attendant and a bookie's assistant at Coral's Betting Shop near Ottershaw, where she developed her love of gambling. Working there as a clerk when she was 20, she used to race the computer, calculating odds and settling accounts. "It's a thrill, drawing the right card or hitting the right number," she says.
Davies's gambling is not such a thrill to her mother. In 1991 Allen quit her job as a secretary after 18 years and began keeping tabs on Laura's bank account, having concluded that her daughter had all too calmly absorbed the loss of £100 on one hand of blackjack. "We've had quite the fray about it," Allen says. Davies has learned to brace for her mother's reaction on "Gold Card Day," the 15th of every month, when the credit card bills arrive and reveal how much cash she has drawn while frequenting one casino or another.