It was, perhaps still is, a putting stroke to die for. Colin Montgomerie called it a “million dollar putting stroke,” a silky action that earmarked Welshman Rhys Davies for a place in future Ryder Cup teams, more European Tour victories, and perhaps major championship glory.
A near instinctive ability to get the ball in the hole doesn’t guarantee a long European Tour career. Even great putters fade away.
It was with great sadness that I learned today of Davies’ retirement from professional golf to work in player management. The 36 year old, one of the most affable people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting in this sport, will now try to guide would-be superstars like he once was through the turbulent waters of professional golf.
It seems like only yesterday I was watching Davies win the Boys Amateur Championship at Royal Liverpool. Davies defeated Spain’s Pablo Martin by 1 hole in the 2003 final. Martin was probably the world’s best under-18 male player at the time. The Spaniard had won the title two years earlier as a 15 year old by defeating compatriot Rafael Cabrera 3&2 at Ganton.
Although Davies finished runner up the previous year to England’s Mark Pilling, he was the definite underdog against Martin. However, he putted the Spaniard off the Hoylake links with a trusty blade putter that seemed grow right out of his hands.
Davies became a standout at East Tennessee State University in American college golf. He won 10 times will playing for ETSU coach Fred Warren. The Welshman played in the 2005 and 2007 Walker Cups, the latter as a teammate of Rory McIlroy’s. Davies played all four sessions in both matches, posting a 4-3-1 won-lost-halved record. The 2007 match saw him defeat Dustin Johnson and Ricky Fowler in singles play, thrashing Johnson 5&4 and bettering Fowler by 3&2.
Davies turned pro after the match and spent two seasons on the European Challenge Tour. He won twice on that circuit in 2009 to finish fourth on the money list to earn his 2010 European Tour card. It didn’t take him long to make his mark on the main tour.
His maiden victory in March 2010 was notable because he defeated Louis Oosthuizen to win the Trophée Hassan II in Rabat, Morocco, going head to head with the South African in the final round. Davies started two shots behind the man who would go on to win that year’s Open Championship at St Andrews, but beat him by two shots.
He did the same to Oosthuizen as he had done to Martin, out putting the diminutive South African. Davies made eight birdies in 11 holes from the fourth, and five in six to draw level with Oosthuizen on the 10th hole. He shot 66 to Oosthuizen's 70.
I was fortunate enough to cover that Trophée Hassan tournament. It was an impressive performance.
“I just felt like I could make every putt out there,” he said.
He very nearly did!
Cue “A star is born” headlines.
When asked whether the victory had given him thoughts about making the European Ryder Cup being held that year at Celtic Manor not far from his home in Bridgend, the Edinburgh-born Welshman replied:
“That is way out of my head at the moment. This is only my first win – hopefully the first of a few.”
I was unequivocal on that fact in the story I penned for Golfweek.
“Of that there can be no doubt,” I wrote.
I still can’t believe I was wrong, that Morocco would be his only European Tour win. Davies probably can’t believe it either.
A career high of 44th on the Official World Golf Ranking followed in June 2010. He did make an appearance at Celtic Manor: he was Colin Montgomerie’s buggy driver. Like many others, the European captain was so convinced Davies would one day feature on European teams he wanted to give the youngster a taste of the action.
Three years later, Davies was back on the Challenge Tour. He managed to regain his European Tour card for the 2016 season, but made nine cuts from 28 appearances to finish 173rd on the money list.
Two years ago, Davies gave an interview to BBC Wales in which he said he was determined to get back to the main tour.
"I am very ambitious," he said. "I really want to be playing at the top level in years to come.”
Now he’s out of the game at the age of 36. Sadly, other parts of his game just didn’t measure up to his peerless putting.
Davies earned over €2.2 million in his 166 European Tour appearances. That, along with his Moroccan victory, makes him a success story. However, it’s yet another tale of an amateur star who never reached predicted potential.
Shame. I hope the genial Welshman has a successful career in player management.
#JustSaying: “The game would be nothing without this troublesome business round the hole.” Joyce Wethered