Bailey Davis went from North Point High to the U.S. Women’s Open

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SOUTHERN PINES, N.C. — On her 18th and final practice hole Tuesday afternoon at Pine Needles golf club, Bailey Davis took aim at the flagstick and nearly holed her approach.

Although the ball did not find its way into the cup, instead settling some four feet away, the shot rekindled memories of an improbable eagle during Davis’s march to the final match of last year’s U.S. Girls’ Junior Amateur at Columbia Country Club. Just a few weeks removed from high school at the time, Davis, a teenager from White Plains, holed out from the fairway on the 19th hole for a 1-up victory in her first-round match.

Less than a year later, still just 19, Davis is preparing for this week’s U.S. Women’s Open, the most prestigious event of her young career. She’s also showing off a commitment to refining her short-iron game, a skill that players indicated will be invaluable following a course redesign in 2017 that introduced firmer Bermuda grass to the greens, replacing the more receptive bentgrass that had been in place when Pine Needles last hosted the U.S. Women’s Open in 2007.

Davis was only a 4-year-old then, several years from picking up a golf club for the first time at the urging of her maternal grandfather, Hank Annoni, who was at the course Tuesday. But the two-time Washington Post All-Met selection at North Point High in Waldorf since has been on a promising trajectory, culminating in her first appearance at the U.S. Women’s Open.

“It’s kind of funny because you’d always put that putt down and say, ‘Hey, this is for the U.S. Women’s Open championship,’ and now you’re playing out here,” said Davis’s father, Morris Davis, who along with her mother, Marlene Annoni, followed their daughter during her practice round. “You never know. Everyone dreams of their kid growing up to be great. It’s surreal, but it’s here.”

Bailey Davis hopes to inspire more girls who look like her to take up golf

The U.S. Women’s Open begins Thursday morning for a record fourth time at Pine Needles. Davis is the same age Yuka Saso was when the world No. 15 won last year’s U.S. Women’s Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco for her first LPGA Tour triumph.

Davis earned a spot in this year’s field of 156 as one of 32 amateurs by shooting 3-under-par 141 over two rounds at Belle Haven Country Club in Alexandria in May. The freshman at Tennessee shot the lowest combined score in qualifying at Belle Haven, claiming one of two spots and finishing ahead of a handful of professionals.

“This is the biggest tournament I’ve ever played in, so I think I’m a little more nervous,” Davis said. “I’m trying to keep the same emotions as I had before, and as long as I’m able to control my nerves this week, I should be able to play pretty well.”

The path to securing a slot in the most coveted major in women’s golf unfolded in similar fashion to her breakthrough tournament at the U.S. Girls’ Junior Amateur, for which Davis had to qualify at Columbia, a course situated along a tony corridor in Chevy Chase roughly an hour’s drive from her home.

With plenty of support throughout the week from family and friends, Davis advanced to the final before losing, 6 and 4, to Rose Zhang, the top-ranked amateur in the world who also claimed the U.S. Women’s Amateur in 2020, becoming the first player to win that event the year before the Girls’ Junior.

The highlights from Davis’s first season playing for the Volunteers included a tie for sixth at The Ally at Old Waverly in West Point, Miss., where Davis shot 7-under 209 over three rounds. Her next-best finish was a tie for 17th one tournament earlier at the Jim West Challenge (4-under 215).

“I think I’ve grown a lot as a player mentally,” said Davis, who was selected to the all-SEC freshman team. “I think I learned a lot about myself and my game in school. I think I learned a lot of patience and how to trust myself more throughout the year, so that’s all helped my game a lot, for sure.”

Davis also has continued to advocate for representation and inclusion in a sport where she frequently is the only Black competitor, as is the case again this week.

The three-time Maryland 4A state title winner became just the second Black player to reach the final of the U.S. Girls’ Junior Amateur. Four years earlier, Davis was the only Black player in the field in her inaugural USGA event, also the Girls’ Amateur, at Boone Valley Golf Club in Augusta, Mo.

Her memorable run at Columbia last year provided exposure on Golf Channel that has led parents of young Black girls to ask her how they can get their daughters involved in golf. The sport still has only one Black player, Mariah Stackhouse, with full-time status on the LPGA Tour.

“I have seen a lot more [Black] juniors coming out and watching me, which I really appreciate,” Davis said. “I’m excited for the future of that. I just try to walk with pride. I try not to think too much about [being the only Black player] going into the field, but obviously I’m aware, so I just try to represent the best way that I can.”

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