Defending champion Karis Davidson will arrive at the Drummond Golf Melbourne International an improved ball striker thanks to a power move made famous by South African great Gary Player.
The second iteration of the two-day Melbourne International at Latrobe Golf Club represents the start of the 2023 WPGA Tour of Australasia season.
It has drawn LPGA Tour-calibre players such as Davidson and Sarah Jane Smith along with emerging stars in Julienne Soo, Cassie Porter and Kelsey Bennett.
The $50,000 pro-am serves as the ideal lead-in to next week’s TPS Victoria tournament at Rosebud Country Club and is a chance for Davidson to display the power gains that she and coach Dom Azzopardi have made since her victory 12 months ago.
As Azzopardi sought to improve the compression that Davidson imparted on the golf ball, she quite literally stumbled onto a move that became synonymous with Player, a nine-time major champion.
It is commonly referred to as the step-through drill and it has become part of Davidson’s practice almost by accident.
“It was weird because I was just trying to figure out a way that feeling would work for me,” said Davidson, who at 255.36 yards was 89th on the LPGA Tour in average driving distance in 2022.
“I was trying to do a step drill and it just wasn’t really working but that worked the best for me, the step through.
“I had this sequence from when I was a kid. I wasn’t getting through the ball; I was kind of holding back in a sense at impact.
“We just really had to exaggerate it for a while. I was hitting a lot of shots where I would step through. I would do my finish position and then start walking. I’m still doing it now because obviously old habits always try and creep back in.”
Azzopardi and Davidson began working together after the Gold Coast product had graduated to the LPGA Tour ahead of the 2022 season.
From that first meeting, Azzopardi identified that ball-striking was an area where they could make significant improvement.
“I’m massive in my coaching on ball-striking. I like good ball-strikers; I’m just massive on that,” said Azzopardi, who also coaches PGA TOUR player Lucas Herbert and New Zealand’s Momoka Kobori.
“When I first started working with Karis, that wasn’t great.
“For her to be able to compress the ball and have her upper body moving in the correct sequence, she’d step after it. She was like, ‘I can do it if I step after it.’
“You’re getting her to learn something that she’s never done and that takes over-exaggeration of something. The step-through drill is forcing her to move her body in a manner that is contrary to what she had ever done and much more like she’s wanting to do.
“In 12 months’ time when her body is so much stronger and her technique and fundamentals are so much more ingrained, she’s going to be a hell of a lot better golfer again.”
As she readies herself for a second season on the LPGA Tour, Davidson says she is not only a different player, but a different person.
She now knows what is waiting for her on the No.1 women’s tour in world golf and, perhaps most importantly, what she needs as a person to perform at her best.
“I’ve definitely grown as a person,” said Davidson, who works with renowned performance psychologist Jonah Oliver.
“Last year was a very mentally challenging year for me. Had some pretty tough times but I have a really good group of people around me so that always helps.
“It needs to be talked about more. Every girl on the tour will go through similar things. It’s not easy being away from home and your family and normality. Changing hotels every week.
“Obviously we’re very fortunate to have an opportunity like this to play golf for a living but everything in life has its tough times.
“It’s not all what it looks like on social media, let’s just say that.
“You just have to learn how to balance life and golf-life. That’s one of the biggest challenges for everyone.”
Entered also into the Vic Open from February 9-12, Davidson first has a matter of a title defence to attend to.
“I would love to defend my title but this and Vic Open are chances to see what I need to work on even more before I head overseas,” said the 24-year-old.
“Last year was a very enjoyable event and I got to play with some lovely ladies at the pro-am day.
“Just excited to see how the course is looking and it will be really nice to see everyone again.”
The Melbourne International is part of Latrobe Golf Club’s 75th anniversary celebrations and tees off on Saturday morning from approximately 9am.
Sunday’s final round will begin at approximately 8am with the lead groups to tee off at around 11am.
There is a truly international flavour to the field with players from Australia, New Zealand, Japan, India, the Cook Islands, Malaysia and the US all teeing it up.