The Professor and the Student: Bill Barrett, the man behind golf phenom Anna Davis

Just weeks after her shock victory at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur on the same legendary course that hosts the Masters, Anna Davis will make her LPGA tournament debut with six of the top eight players in the world at the Palos Verdes Championship.

She turned 16 in March. She is a sophomore at Steele Canyon High in Spring Valley. She cannot drive to class herself.

But the story of Davis and her silky swing doesn’t begin on the back nine at Augusta, which she played in less than 2 years. Nor does it start when her golf-mad dad Bill Davis started dragging Anna and her twin brother Billy to the East County driving ranges when they were 3 years old. Or a year later, when local teaching pro Bill Barrett started working with them at Stadium Golf Center in Canyon Murphy.

It starts 20 years before, in the late 1980s, when Bill Davis was a graduate student at San Diego State teaching a Spanish class to undergraduates, and Bob Barrett showed up during office hours.

“Bob was a math guy and he was horrible in Spanish,” says Bill Davis. “He was one of the few people who came to ask for help.”

One day Bob arrived and Bill was leaving to play golf.

It was a language Bob spoke fluently. His father, Boyd Barrett, was part of the Stardust County Club (now Riverwalk) in Mission Valley and taught for 50 years. His sister, Sharon, was a junior golf prodigy and earned her LPGA Tour card at age 18. His brother, Bill, was an accomplished golfer who would continue the family tradition as a teaching professional. Bob is still a golf coach at Eastlake High.

Bill Davis wasn’t really a golfer like that.

“I think I had played golf twice, just super dumb newbies in their twenties who had just gone to Tecolote Canyon to drink beer and hit some balls in the creek on a Friday afternoon “, he says. “Bob said, ‘Well, maybe I’ll come play golf with you someday.’ He went with us to Tecolote one day and saw that I had gone crazy about it and invited me to the Saturday chipping lesson they had every week at Cottonwood (in El Cajon).

It started a golf journey with the Barrett family which in 2009 led to Bill teaching his 4-year-old twins.

Billy Davis, a sophomore at St. Augustine, won a two-day junior tournament last summer in Washington by 16 strokes after shooting 10-under 62. Anna will take part in an LPGA tournament today – and the US Women’s Open in June – with, like her brother, a swing designed by a grizzled old-school coach who has worked on the range for three decades, eight hours a day, five days a week, watching little white balls fly across an azure sky, some straighter than others.

“I’ll be 62 next month,” Barrett says. “To some extent I wish I was 10 or 20 years younger right now. But it’s just a lot of fun to watch. This week in Augusta has been just phenomenal, watching her play and win this tournament at 16 … It’s kind of weird, it’s kinda funny, at almost 62, I have a few kids like that who stand out.

Most top junior golfers eventually gravitate toward $500-an-hour coaches at exclusive country clubs. Not the children of Bill Davis, a Spanish teacher at Saint Augustine High who lives in Spring Valley and learned to play Tecolote, a course for blue-collar executives consisting of tank tops, jeans and a full drinks cart shots of Jello.

Bob and Sharon would give her tips on Saturday mornings in Cottonwood that they learned from their dad, and Davis passed on those same basics to Anna and Billy when they started – grip, setup, posture. And he knew they would hear the same philosophy from Bill Barrett.

“He’s known the game for a long time and understands that there are no secrets, there are no tricks,” Bill Davis said. “There are fundamentals, and then you have to train. There really is no way around it. But it’s not very selling to tell someone, “Sure, I can tell you how to do it, but it won’t do you any good if you don’t practice.” Bill barely knows how to use a phone to do all the things you need to promote yourself. It’s one of the things we love about him. He just teaches.

“He won’t tell you what you want to hear because he wants you to pay for your half-hour lesson. He’s not going to lie to you. He will tell you the truth. That’s not what a lot of people want to hear. He recognizes how difficult it is. He acknowledges that it is a long and difficult struggle.

Barrett knows this from personal experience.

Eleven consecutive years he tried to qualify for the PGA Tour. Eleven years in a row he would reach the penultimate stage of qualifying school, where the top 10 usually advance.

“I would finish 11th or 12th every fucking time,” Barrett says. “Finally, I understood this teaching contract. I understood that the money was quite decent. It’s not a bad way to make a living.

The beauty of Anna’s left-handed swing is in its simplicity and fluidity, full shoulder turn, the same top position regardless of club, followed by exceptional hip turn and game of legs that generates power against its lightweight 110-pound frame. (She regularly delivers drives over 260 yards and only missed one fairway on the last round at Augusta, and that was 6 inches.)

But it’s what goes on between the ears more than the shoulders that defines her game. As she strode through the hallowed grounds of Augusta National on national TV in her bucket hat and ponytails against top lovers of the planet, she exuded an effervescent calm.

“You can’t take it so seriously that you get mad on the golf course,” she says. “It’s supposed to be fun. You have to treat it that way.

It’s part nature, part the upbringing of a grizzled 61-year-old coach.

Barrett didn’t play that way. He played poorly, “I wasn’t very happy with the world.” He likes to tell the story of hitting a 190 yard long iron from 20 feet in a US Open qualifier with his caddy sister and throwing his club because he wasn’t close enough, and Sharon telling him “that’s just stupid” and if he did it again, she was off the course.

He learned. He gets it now.

“It’s about having fun,” Barrett says. “That’s what I always tell Anna: don’t worry about what’s going on. Just enjoy the ride. …and that’s how she is. It doesn’t go too high when things are going well, it doesn’t go too low when things are not going well. That’s what I love about Anna. She’s just a kid. In Augusta, I was with her all week. After a second (fragile) round she blows little bubbles and is just a kid laughing with her friends, just having a good time.

“I thought, ‘That’s what this is about. “”

A month ago, she was a strong junior golfer who placed in the top five in all four events she entered in 2022. She is now part of a 144-player field at the Palos Verdes Championship with the No. No. 1 Jin Young Ko and five others ranked. among the top eight worldwide.

The following month, she received a sponsor exemption for the Cognizant Founders Cup in New Jersey. Then there’s the US Women’s Open at Pine Needles Golf Club in North Carolina in June. Then the Amundi Evian Championship in France and the AIG Women’s Open at the famous Muirfield in Scotland.

“In a way, things have changed,” Bill Davis says of his 16-year-old daughter with ponytails and a bucket hat making her LPGA debut. “But somehow they didn’t. She has traveled to golf tournaments over the past year. It’s basically another golf tournament. You can still see it as more, but it basically boils down to you going golfing and trying to shoot a good score.

“If you do, great. If you don’t, it’s like, ‘Dad, I have to go see Mr. Barrett.’ »