Photo: Abigail Davis was selected to compete in the U.S. Adaptive Open in Pinehurst, North Carolina on July 10-12, where she finished 8th overall in the women’s standings.
Abigail Davis never expected she would find herself in Pinehurst, North Carolina on July 10. But there she was, some 1,440 miles from her hometown of Houston, Texas. 170 miles to the northwest lay Belton, where she spent three years contributing to the Mary Hardin-Baylor women’s golf team, a program that was ranked in the D-III Top 25 for much of her time there.
She was not on the college stage anymore. Davis was at Pinehurst Resort competing on a national level, against fellow Americans as well as a handful of players from countries such as Canada, Japan, and South Korea. She entered the final round of the U.S. Adaptive Open, battling for a spot in the overall Top 10.
When watching Davis play, one of the first things that stands out is her remarkable swing. It is powerful, with serious force behind it, and served her well throughout her time at Pope John XIII High School, and later at UMHB.
When on the course with the Cru at a tournament, Davis’ power unfailingly drew stares and glances from onlookers and fellow competitors. In large part, it stemmed from the fact that she was driving shots at great distances…and doing it with one hand.
That’s right. One hand.
When she was born, doctors told her parents that she would be severely handicapped, and not expected to live more than two years. A bad heart. A club foot. A cleft palate. A missing left hand. Doctors told Clark and Tina Davis that an abortion would be best. But through prayer, they decided against that option.
“We just said, ‘No, that’s not something we believe in,’” Clark Davis told True To The Cru. “That’s not something our faith believes in.
“We called on our pastor and prayed a lot. [Abigail] has two older sisters and they prayed every day for everything to be okay. Miraculously, when she was born, she came out perfect. Perfect in God’s Image. She just didn’t have a left hand.”
The missing left hand was caused by amniotic band syndrome. In other words, the limb did not form due to it being cut off by a band in the womb. And it was with this piece of adversity that Abigail Davis was born.
“I definitely had to overcome a lot of things with one hand,” she said recently. “It’s been difficult to go through that and be one of the few that are adaptive [in college golf].
“It was weird whenever we would go out to the golf courses, and they would just stare at me. Obviously that’s very uncomfortable. But I just love to prove people wrong when I’m out there and show that I can do what they’re doing.”
She held that mentality from an early age, joining her older sisters on the golf course as early as five years old. By the time she reached high school, it had become a more serious endeavor. And the bar was set high.
Her older sister Elizabeth helped UMHB to an ASC title in 2013, before receiving consecutive First Team All-ASC selections in 2014 and 2015. Currently, Elizabeth head coaches the men’s and women’s golf programs at Amherst, and has twice earned NESCAC Coach of the Year honors during her seven-year tenure.
“She was a big supporter of mine,” Abigail said of Elizabeth. “I looked up to her. When she played at the college level, I thought it was so cool. You build lifelong relationships with your teammates. I just thought it was so amazing that she could play college golf and do school at the same time. So through high school, [playing college golf] was what I really wanted to pursue.”
UMHB head coach Jackie Ralston gave Davis that opportunity after she closed out a stellar high school career with three team MVP awards at Pope John XIII High School.
“I knew Coach Ralston when I was going into college, and I’m glad she gave me that opportunity,” Davis said. “I had very low expectations for myself, but I did it and I’m happy I did. I’m very thankful because a lot of doors have opened up for me as well.”
Ralston said of Davis on Monday: “I am so proud of her and how well she played in the adaptive tournament. I’m sure the courses were challenging and fun all at the same time. What a great experience for Abigail. She is a dedicated player that loves the game. She works hard and is truly very talented.”
In 2021, she was selected by the Women’s Golf Coaches Association as the winner of the D-III Kim Moore Spirit Award. A high honor, it recognizes a student-athlete or coach who demonstrates great passion towards the sport of golf, a positive attitude both on and off the course, and mental toughness through challenges. The award’s namesake is Kim Moore, the famed University of Indianapolis golfer who was born missing her right foot and with a severely clubbed left foot, and is now the head coach at Western Michigan.
“What was really cool about the national tournament is I got to meet Kim Moore,” Davis said. “When I saw her, it meant so much more. It already meant so much that I was nominated for the award, much less that I got the award.
“Honestly, I just see myself as a normal person. There’s times when I forget that I don’t have a left hand, because that’s what I’m used to. It was just so meaningful to me that people noticed my positivity and my character around everything that I do.”
When she was growing up, her parents would often say that “can’t” isn’t a word they would use, “because in life, you’re going to have to figure it out.” In essence, that mentality is a large part of the reason for Davis’ success both in life and on the golf course. She has found a way to excel despite the challenges that have stood in the way.
“I tell people all the time, there are a lot of different ailments and you can go to the library or a bookstore and find a book on it,” Clark Davis said. “If you wanted to find a book on ‘Child born without a left hand’, it doesn’t exist. You just modify things as you go along. You make it work.”
That included simple daily tasks such as riding a bike, tying a shoe, or painting her nails. And of course, swinging a golf club.
“When I was little, my dad was trying to figure out anything he could so that I could play,” Davis recalls. “We tried multiple prosthetics, but those didn’t work. I hated them actually.
“So when I got to high school, we were like, ‘We need to figure something out.’ So my clubs are extended about an inch, so that I can have a grip on the club. I can use my left hand there to support it, because it’s longer, and I can still get the full distance that I need to.”
Uniquely, she also swings left-handed, which allows for the increased power, and cross-handed, with her right hand low and her left hand high.
“That’s the only way she could get speed and control of the club head,” Clark said. “Because once that club head goes up high, it’s difficult to control the club head and not ‘throw the club’ or get off the swing plane. It was a lot of work, a lot of practice, and a lot of just getting out there and figuring it out.”
The longer clubs were not the only adaptation Davis made. Her left hand frequently developed blisters due to the nature of it rubbing against the grip, causing discomfort. So once again, a solution was found.
“We had to figure out ‘What can we do to stop getting those blisters and rub spots?,” Abigail remembers. “So my dad was like, ‘What if we put tape on there?’ I was like ‘What?’ But we put tape on there and it worked. So I always play with tape on my left hand.”
And on her right arm is always two sweatbands. That is in an effort to alleviate the bruises that can come with the longer clubs hitting her right arm on every swing. It might be slightly unconventional, but it works. And that’s what counts.
“She’s overcome all the stuff she needs to overcome,” Clark added. “She was able to play basketball and volleyball. She learned to play the piano and the guitar. She’s overcome all of that to be able to play.”
Fast forward to her most recent tournament, in the U.S. Adaptive Open. She not only fought for a Top 10 overall spot, she finished in the Top 10, with an eighth-place finish. More importantly, she finished first in her division, a goal of hers entering the first round. By winning her division, she secured a spot in next year’s U.S. Adaptive Open, and there is also the possibility of her competing at more Adaptive Tournaments worldwide.
“This is the second year of the event,” Clark said. “It was awesome. It was an incredible experience for her and for our family to spend time with her and watch her play golf, which she loves to do. It was a pretty special time.”
Interestingly enough, she did not even plan on signing up until a friend encouraged her to do so. Only 96 out of over 2,500 applicants were selected to the field.
“I was not expecting to play at a national level,” she said with a laugh. “I talked to one of my friends, and he said, ‘Hey there’s this tournament. You should sign up for it. And he talked about how it was for adaptive people with disabilities. So I signed up and I got in. I’m very honored that I had the opportunity to play in something like that.”
The experience is something that Davis will not soon forget. But she does not intend to keep it to herself. An exercise physiology major, she aims to use her experiences of overcoming obstacles to eventually help children battling similar disabilities. And her golf success, amongst everything else she has accomplished in life, serves as proof that perceived limits do not define what can be accomplished.
“My plan with exercise physiology is to be an occupational therapist,” Davis said. “I want to work with kids who don’t have limbs. I’d love to be an inspiration to them and let them know that it’s okay to be different. No matter what people say about you, you’re going to make it.”