Brian Davis might be the unluckiest player in the history of the PGA Tour. He has never had an ace in competition, a streak of futility that is now at 4,529 par 3s and counting.
As of this writing he has made 359 starts on Tour without a victory, the longest drought among all active players. (Omar Uresti, 50, is winless in 368 starts but is now focused on the Champions tour). One of Davis’s best chances to win came at Hilton Head in 2010, in a playoff against Jim Furyk, but, while attempting a recovery shot from the edge of Calibogue Sound, he brushed a tiny loose impediment in the hazard during his backswing, a two-stroke penalty that doomed Davis to defeat. (He alerted officials to what might have happened but, because the reeds near his ball were moving with the wind, it took slow-mo replays in high definition to confirm the infraction.) When Davis blew out his neck in late 2016, it seemed somehow fitting, given the heavy burden he has long shouldered.
And yet, over sandwiches at a lunch spot in his adopted home of Orlando, this dogged victim of inexorable fate radiated contentment. “In many ways, I’m happier than I’ve ever been,” says the 44-year-old Brit.
It turns out that the January 2017 surgery to repair two disks in his neck was a gift in disguise for a gritty grinder who spent most of his career hiding behind a dour game-face. Davis is a short-hitter who has to squeeze as much as possible out of the rest of his game. If Cam Champ and his ilk make golf look a little too easy, Davis has always given off the vibe of a guy trying as hard as he can, and sometimes a bit too hard.
“Some would suggest that Brian’s demeanor on the course has been quite negative,” says his longtime putting coach Gary Evans. “He can come off as a really grumpy bastard. He wears his heart on his sleeve, and it’s probably hurt him more than it’s helped him.”
Davis is a deep thinker and does some of his best brooding while cruising the open road atop his Harley-Davidson Street Glide. He has a ready rebuttal to critiques of how hot he has always burned: “I spoke to psychologists, I’ve spoken to friends, and maybe if I had been easier on myself I would have won more. But maybe if I weren’t so hard on myself I wouldn’t have stayed [on Tour] for 20-plus years. There’s always two sides.”
The road back from surgery has been long and bumpy, and Davis begins 2019 in limbo between the bigs and the Web.com tour. Yet on the course he now exudes, well, not joy exactly, but something closer to acceptance. “I’m trying to embrace the struggle,” Davis says. “There are low moments, of course. But I guess I’m getting more satisfaction in working my way through them, instead of letting it bring me down. I’m trying to be easier on myself.”
This broadened perspective came from the first extended break of his career. A native of London, Davis spent his thirties annually playing 30-plus tournaments on the PGA Tour and another handful in Europe. It was a grueling schedule that left his bride, Julie — whom he met, fittingly, on an airplane — to raise their children, Oliver, Henry and Madeline, largely by herself. (Julie’s father Ray Clemence played for Liverpool and the English national soccer team, so Brian says with a laugh, “She knew what she was getting into.”)
Davis didn’t touch a club in the run-up to his surgery and during the long recovery, and in his year away from the game he morphed into Mr. Mom. Driving the kids to school, helping with their homework, attending Little League games — he immersed himself in the simple pleasures of fatherhood. Says Julie, “His relationship with the kids has definitely changed. They’re closer than they’ve ever been, and it’s really wonderful to see.”
Two of the children are miracles: Oliver was born with serious kidney problems, and Madeline’s lungs collapsed shortly after birth. Both kids are now in great health, and that’s just one of Davis’s blessings. Julie possesses beauty and brains, having once produced documentaries for the BBC. Davis has made a healthy $13.4 million playing a game — a record haul for a player without a win. And through all the ups and downs, he retains his passion for golf. “I was born to do this,” he says, “and can’t imagine ever stopping.”
So say he never nabs a victory or jars an ace. That’s okay. For such an unlucky golfer, Brian Davis is a pretty lucky guy.