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Bill Barrett, the man behind phenom Anna Davis

May 1, 2022 at 2:13 a.m.

SAN DIEGO -- Just weeks after her shocking win at the Augusta National Women's Amateur on the same, fabled course that hosts the Masters, Anna Davis made her debut Thursday in an LPGA tournament with six of the world's top eight players at the Palos Verdes Championship.

She turned 16 in March. She's a sophomore at Steele Canyon High in Spring Valley. She can't drive herself to the course.

She carded an even-par 71 in her debut, eight shots behind the leader, Australia's Minjee Lee.

But the story of Davis and her silky swing doesn't start on the back nine at Augusta, which she played in 2-under. Nor does it start when Bill Davis, her golf-crazed father, began lugging Anna and twin brother Billy to East County driving ranges at age 3. Or a year later, when local teaching pro Bill Barrett began working with them at Stadium Golf Center in Murphy Canyon.

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

"Bob was a math guy and he was horrific at Spanish," Bill Davis says. "He was one of the few people who actually would come in for help."

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

Now, that was a language Bob spoke fluently. His father, Boyd Barrett, was a fixture at Stardust County Club (now Riverwalk) in Mission Valley and taught lessons for 50 years. His sister, Sharon, was a junior golf prodigy and got her LPGA tour card at 18. His brother, Bill, was an accomplished golfer who would carry on the family tradition as a teaching pro. Bob still coaches golf at Eastlake High.

Bill Davis wasn't really a golfer like that.

"I think I had played golf twice, just super dumb 20-something-year-old beginners who just went to Tecolote Canyon to drink beer and whack balls into the creek on a Friday afternoon," he says. "Bob said, 'Well, maybe I'll come golfing with you sometime.' He went with us one day to Tecolote. He saw that I had gone crazy about it and invited me to the Saturday chipping lesson they had each week at Cottonwood (in El Cajon)."

That started a golf journey with the Barrett family that, 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 teed it up in an LPGA tournament this week -- and will at the U.S. Women's Open in June -- with, like her brother, a swing crafted by a grizzled, old-school coach who has been grinding on the range for three decades, eight hours a day, five days a week, watching little white balls fly into an azure sky, some straighter than others.

"I'll be 62 next month," Barrett says. "To a certain extent, I wish I was 10 or 20 years younger right now. But it's just a lot of fun to watch. That week in Augusta was just phenomenal, watching her play and win that tournament at 16. ... It's kind of bizarre, it's kind of funny, at almost 62 years of age, I get a couple kids like this that set themselves apart."

Most top junior golfers eventually gravitate to $500-per-hour coaches at exclusive country clubs. Not the kids of Bill Davis, a Spanish teacher at Saint Augustine High who lives in Spring Valley and learned to play at Tecolote, a blue-collar executive course of tank tops, jeans and a drink cart stocked with Jello shots.

Bob and Sharon would give him tips on those Saturday mornings at Cottonwood that they learned from their father, and Davis imparted those same basics to Anna and Billy when they started -- grip, setup, posture. And he knew they'd hear the same philosophy from Bill Barrett.

"He's been around the game a long time and understands there are no secrets, there are no tricks," Bill Davis says. "There are fundamentals, and then you have to go practice. There's really no way around that. But that's not a very big seller to tell someone, 'Sure, I can tell you how to do it, but it's not going to do any good unless you practice.' Bill barely knows how to use a phone to do all this stuff you need to promote yourself. That's one of the things we like about him. He's just teaching."

The beauty of Anna's left-handed swing is its simplicity and fluidity, a full shoulder turn, the same position at the top no matter the club, followed by exceptional hip turn and footwork that generates power belying her slight, 110-pound frame. (She routinely pounds drives 260-plus yards and missed only a single fairway in the final round at Augusta, and that was by 6 inches.)

But it's what happens between the ears more than the shoulders that defines her game. As she traversed the hallowed grounds of Augusta National on national TV in her trademark bucket hat and ponytails against the planet's best amateur players, she exuded an effervescent calm.

"You can't take it too seriously to the point where you're just getting that mad on the golf course," she says. "It's supposed to be fun. You have to treat it that way."

That's part nature, part nurture from a grizzled 61-year-old coach.

A month ago, she was a good junior golfer who had top-five finishes in all four events she entered in 2022. Now she's part of a 144-player field at the Palos Verdes Championship with No. 1 Jin Young Ko and five others ranked among the top eight globally.

Next month, she received a sponsor's exemption into the Cognizant Founders Cup in New Jersey. Then there's the U.S. Women's Open at Pine Needles Golf Club in North Carolina in June.

"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 in a way, they haven't. She's been traveling to golf tournaments for the last year. It's basically another golf tournament. You can always see it as more, but it basically comes down to you're going to go play golf and try to shoot a good score.

"If you do, great. If you don't, it's, 'Dad, I need to go see Mr. Barrett.' "

Print Headline: Bill Barrett, the man behind phenom Anna Davis

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