There was a time when Anna Davis could show up anonymously at golf events. With her now familiar bucket hat and left-handed swing, the Southern Californian went about her business without much fanfare.
Not when you win at one of the most recognizable places in the game before an international audience. In April, the 16-year-old produced a remarkable one-stroke victory at the 3rd Augusta National Women’s Amateur over Louisiana State University standouts Latanna Stone and Ingrid Lindblad.
Suddenly, Davis was an overnight media sensation. Interview requests came from everywhere. Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Michelle Wie West offered congratulatory tweets. People in malls and restaurants around her hometown of Spring Valley, east of San Diego, stopped in their tracks.
“The past two months have been crazy with press and everybody wanting to know something,” said Davis. “It’s been a lot of fun. I like getting the attention.”
Davis returns to the big stage this week at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club. One of the perks for winning the ANWA is a spot in the 77th U.S. Women’s Open Presented by ProMedica, along with an exemption into the 2022 AIG Women’s British Open. The Amundi Evian Championship, another women’s major, has also given her spot in this year’s field.
This could be overwhelming for anyone, let alone a high school sophomore. But Davis is the very definition of California Chill. Nothing seems to faze the soft-spoken and uber-talented player.
That poise and self-confidence was on display when she recently made the cut in consecutive LPGA Tour events on sponsor exemptions: the Palos Verdes Championship and the Cognizant Founders Cup in New Jersey.
Competing against the game’s best players provided a solid tune-up for the U.S. Women’s Open. Sure, Davis is in awe of the assembled talent, but she doesn’t have a deer-in-the-headlights look when playing alongside these superstars.
On Tuesday, she played a nine-hole practice round with sisters Nelly and Jessica Korda, and reigning U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Jensen Castle. On Wednesday, she played with former world No. 1 Lydia Ko, a 17-time LPGA Tour winner.
“I feel pretty comfortable playing with these girls,” said Davis, who admits that she will have first-tee jitters on Thursday like everyone else. “You’re still in awe [of the game’s greats], but now it’s toned down a little bit. I’m kind of used to it now.”
It’s not like Davis came completely out of nowhere. Her game had been on the rise for the past several years. Last summer, she won the Girls Junior PGA Championship, which earned her spots on the USA Junior Ryder Cup and Junior Solheim Cup teams. The ANWA win pushed her inside the top 50 of the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking, and has moved to No. 25 in the WAGR. The USGA also named Davis as the second alternate to the USA Curtis Cup Team, which will take on Great Britain and Ireland next week at Merion Golf Club.
Then there’s her choice of fashion – headwear to be exact. Davis’ choice to don a bucket hat during her ANWA triumph received a lot of notoriety. The habit began with last year’s Girls Junior PGA Championship, when Davis hadn’t worn a hat and she suffered from a sunburn. Her father suggested a bucket hat and she promptly won the event.
At Augusta National, she went with a bucket hat for the final round, leading to another victory. On Tuesday, she wore one with a 2022 U.S. Women’s Open logo.
“It’s definitely gotten me a lot of attention,” said Davis, flashing her infectious smile.
One of the perks of being a U.S. Women’s Open competitor is the use of a Lexus courtesy car, although Davis is one of a handful of players not allowed to drive. With so much competitive golf planned for this summer, that goal will have to wait until the fall. Chauffeur duties fall to Davis’ father, William, this week, and she also brought Randy Kirby, a family friend from Washington state who was on her bag at Augusta. Twin brother, Billy, an accomplished player who just missed advancing out of U.S. Open local qualifying last month, didn’t make the trip to North Carolina, nor did her mother, Beatriz.
Davis credits her brother for making her a stronger player. The two frequently dueled at nearby Steele Canyon Golf Club, but conflicting golf events now limit their time together. Both will surely be on the recruiting radar for college coaches later this month when they can officially make contact.
That is, if Davis decides to play college golf, a topic that Anna isn’t too concerned about at the moment. She won’t graduate from Steele Canyon High School until 2024 and, in her words, so much can happen between now and then.
Right now, she’s doing her best to figure out the challenging Donald Ross layout, especially the green complexes. Having played Augusta National, Sage Valley and more recently, Pine Valley, has helped in that preparation.
For the first two rounds, Davis is grouped with fellow Southern Californian Rose Zhang and former wunderkind Lucy Li, who in 2014 at the age of 11 became the youngest U.S. Women’s Open qualifier. Zhang, No. 1 in the WAGR and a two-time USGA champion, is coming off winning the NCAA Division I title in Arizona and will compete in her second Curtis Cup next week.
Davis is slowly compiling a résumé that might someday match those credentials. A great week in the Sandhills would only build on it.
“I’m not going into the week super-stressed,” said Davis. “I’m out here to have fun. Against the [LPGA] Tour players, that’s an advantage that I have. It’s not necessarily my job at the moment.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.