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Old 10-12-2006, 11:46 PM   #1
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Great Wall is no barrier for fund-raiser Davies

Great Wall is no barrier for fund-raiser Davies
By Lewine Mair

In April, after she had missed the cut at the Nabisco Dinah Shore championship in Palm Springs, Laura Davies held her thumb and index finger a millimetre apart as she said a desperate, "I'm that close to giving up." Seven months on and Davies, 43, is back at the top of the European Order of Merit and has scaled the Great Wall of China to boot.

Today is her last day of walking the wall – 56 miles of it – to raise funds for Great Ormond Street, the hospital which cares for Tilly, the one-year-old daughter of a former Curtis Cup colleague, Helen Dobson. Tilly has Down's syndrome.

When Davies visits a new golfing venue, she is full of eager anticipation. When she arrived at the Great Wall on Monday, her heart sank. The so-called Stairway to Heaven, an early feature of the trek and one which consists of hundreds of two-foot high steps, was pure hell.

By the time she had finished, she was aching all over and ready to drop. "You know me, I never do anything I don't want to do," she said. "I was terrified before I came out here and I stayed terrified for the first three days. All I wanted was to go home."

Not possible. Firstly, she could hardly renege on such a worthwhile mission. Secondly, there was no turning back. Once you and your party have embarked on the walk, there is nowhere else to go. "You have to kick on," she explained. "There are no roads out of here. This wall is in the middle of nowhere. There's nothing but mountains and forests."

Even before she won four majors and made her golfing fortune, Davies was not averse to a touch of luxury.

There was that famous occasion when she rented an apartment for a tournament in France and, in making supper for herself, sliced a quarter of an inch from the top of a finger while opening a tin. Not beans, as it turned out, but caviar.

She also loves a good hotel, so much so that when she bought her present house in Surrey, she wanted her own bedroom to have the feel of a five-star establishment.

On Monday and again on Tuesday, Davies and her 40 fellow walkers stayed in farmhouses with paper-thin walls, rock-hard beds, cold water and WCs which were nothing more than holes in the ground. But surely there was good Chinese fare at the end of each day? Apparently not. Davies, who is not a great fan of oriental cuisine in the first place, was getting by on an evening bowl of rice and nothing more.

"If I haven't lost weight, it will be a travesty," she said. The signs were promising though. In the first of the early-morning warm-up routines, she got no further than touching her knees, she was down to her toes by yesterday. As from now, even the narrowest of fairways is going to look like some vast prairie to this former US Open champion. You would have thought that the Great Wall, being 4,000-odd miles in length, would have a bit of width to spare but that does not always apply. In places, it has crumbled to the point where it is no more than a foot wide. "If you fall," warned Davies, "you're pretty much dead. You'd drop 100 feet on to rock and another 500 feet through the forest."

Not too long before our conversation, someone had caught Davies as she lost her footing. "You are looking out for each other all the time," she said. The locals, of course, are different. The two guides are apparently like mountain goats as they shepherd the visitors across the heights. Again, an elderly woman appeared from nowhere and trekked alongside them for five hours bearing a cooler crammed with drinks.

It was on the fourth day that Davies noticed her attitude changing. Where, previously, every new vista of zigzagging wall had filled her with dread, she was now feeling nothing but awe. After she had mounted a particularly lofty watch-tower, she felt for one giddy minute as if she were standing on the most gloriously elevated tee in the world and mimicked a couple of swings.

When the going is good, she revels in the company of her fellow walkers, "all of whom, like myself, have a good reason to want to help Great Ormond Street". And when it is tough, she walks in silence and ponders "on the poor souls" who built the wall all those years ago.

When any celebrity does something so far removed from the norm, it is almost mandatory to ask whether he or she views it as a life-changing experience.

Predictably, Davies, who will be playing in an LPGA tournament in Bangkok this coming week, is far too unpretentious to want to go down that road. As one whose golfing philosophy has always been along the lines, "Give the ball a whack and get on with it", her thoughts are altogether more practical. "If I say I'll stay fitter, will that do?" she asked.

Donations can be made to Great Ormond St Hospital on 020 7239 3000.
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