For Hailey Davidson, the final round of the National Women’s Golf Association mini-tour event at Davenport, Fla., on May 13 mirrored much of her life story. It had a rough start, followed by ups and down, and ended up in a good spot.
A final round that started with two bogeys, and a stroke-for-stroke duel with LPGA Tour competitor Perrine Delacour, ended with the 28-year-old earning a one-stroke win.
The tournament was also a piece of history. It is thought to be the first time that a transgender woman has ever won a professional golf event.
In the moment, it took time for the history to register.
“I didn’t even know that until after the fact,” Davidson said in an interview on The Trans Sporter Room, “but I realized that it is a lot bigger than I thought.”
The win is the next link in a chain of progress extending from Mianne Bagger reaching the Ladies European Tour to Lana Lawless and Bobbi Lancaster attempting to break into the LPGA Tour. For Davidson, it’s her latest mountain conquered in the game she loves.
This was just her third outing since ending a six-year layoff from tournament golf, and she played through pain from gender-affirming surgery in January.
On April 26, she pushed through 36-holes in a U.S. Women’s Open qualifier. She was in contention, but a rough back nine in the second round doomed her chances.
“I’m probably back a little quicker than I should have, and I pushed my body a little further than I maybe should have,” she said, talking about getting in game shape through the healing process.
“That was part of not being able to compete after six years and knowing I was going to be sitting in bed for 10 weeks. I was so desperate to play competitive golf, and I was going to find a way to do it.”
Loving golf and living without it
One could say she was born with a high pain threshold. Davidson came into the world with a severe clubfoot. Between birth and age 17, she went through 34 surgical procedures to alleviate the problem.
“Because of that I couldn’t do things like basketball and running, and that is the point in life where kids try every sport,” she recalled.
She emigrated with her parents from Scotland to the U.S. at age 5, and among the things that also made the move across the Atlantic was her father’s love of golf. That love grew in a young child who became competitive through junior golf and high school competition in Virginia. Davidson’s ability led to a full scholarship to Division II power Wilmington University.
It seemed that talent would meet opportunity and yield success. Yet Davidson at the time she was beginning the next step in the game, she was reckoning with a key phase in her life.
“The golf was great, but I was pretty miserable and I went through a depressive state. So after my freshman year, I transferred.” she recalled.
Davidson said that freshman year was when she first started seeing what had her vexed on and off the links: She was struggling with her gender identity, and she hoped a fresh start at Christopher Newport University in Virginia would help.
On the course she was all-conference. Off the course she was taking tentative steps.
“I was putting myself around people who were a little more supportive,” she noted. “But as things got worse I walked in and told coach that I had some things to figure out.”
She ended up leaving the team and the school. Her parents were moving to a new home in Jupiter, Fla. Davidson moved with them and ended up finishing college online at Arizona State in 2014. She had hoped to make a fresh start, but there was the other constant in her life.
Jupiter is home to a number of professional golfers, and Davidson took advantage of the access. She found herself playing with and learning from touring pros.
“I was playing rounds with Rory McIlroy’s dad every week,” she said. “I was playing practice rounds with these guys and girls every day of the week and I was friends with them. The great plan I had of moving to a new place and coming out was suppressed because I didn’t want to lose any of this.”
Two significant turning points in life happened in 2015.
On May 8 of that year, Davidson was in a 10-way scrap in a local U.S. Open qualifier for one spot to move forward. She took a disappointing result as a sign.
“Back then I thought it was either golf or being who I am,” she remembered. “There was no crossroad. It was one or the other.”
Months later, on September 24, Davidson started hormone treatments. She wouldn’t pick up a golf club for two years.
Coming back and becoming free
“Golf wasn’t even a part of my life at that point, and I wouldn’t even watch it with my dad because it reminds of this part of my life I was missing out on,” she said looking back at her life. “I still called the LPGA. I asked them if it was still possible down the road. I was so fortunate that the LPGA put me in touch with Bobbi Lancaster.”
In 2013 Bobbi Lancaster, at age 62, was a trans woman with a love of golf and goal to gain a tour card. Her quest wasn’t successful, but her example planted a seed.
“I don’t think I could do this without what Bobbi did,” she stated emphatically. “I wouldn’t have any chance in the golf world without what Bobbi’s done.”
Davidson was playing recreational rounds again by 2017. She was mainly working for a living and admittedly was well out of playing shape.
“Over a three year period, I gained over 80 pounds,” she groaned. “I never thought I would get good enough to play competitively.”
What brought her back to competitive form was a mix of immersion back into golf, thanks to a position with Golf Channel, and a goal for her life. She was seeking affirming surgery, but her surgeon said she had to lose at least 50 pounds before they’d perform the procedure.
“I went in and really focused on my life,” she said. “I said to myself that if this is something you want to do, you can’t just keep sulking and thinking it’s going to magically come to you.”
In 310 days, Davidson lost 90 pounds by playing rounds and working on her game daily. The hard work set up the declaration that beamed from her Instagram on the day of her surgery: I’m finally free.
Free to be, free to play, and free to excel.
Q-school is the next goal
She now has her eyes on, and is raising funds for, the LPGA’s qualifying school for the LPGA and Symetra tours for 2022. The first stage starts August 16.
As Davidson prepares for Q-school, the LPGA is reviewing her intention to make the attempt.
“We are currently reviewing Hailey’s application to participate in LPGA Tour events under the LPGA’s gender policy,” Heather Daly-Donofrio, the LPGA’s chief tour operations officer, told Florida Today. “The policy is designed to be a private and confidential process between the LPGA and the athlete.”
Davidson is confident and excited for the next step, and for many more she sees for the future.
One of those steps includes opening the 2022 season by stepping to the first tee in an LPGA Tour event.
So what will be her thought as she takes that first drive as a Tour pro?
“Please, just don’t miss!” She quipped.
She also noted that she hopes to inspire other transgender people the way that Bagger, Lawless and Lancaster inspired her.
“The first time I get to be on TV hitting a golf ball, it’s going to do a lot more for our community than it does for me,” she said. “I want to make sure that kid sitting at home has a smile on their face thinking that what I want I to do is a possibility.”
Hailey Davidson had a lot to say about enjoying golf, her life story, and the recent wave of anti-trans legislation when we beamed her up to the Trans Sporter Room. Now available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify Podcasts, or via our Megaphone Player. You can also find it on your favorite podcast platform and everywhere you find Outsports. We also invite you to subscribe to all six Outsports podcasts!