Davies-Johnson duo dominates first day of Handa Cup

WEST POINT, MS. – Juli Inkster received a rude welcome in her debut on the LPGA Legends Tour on Saturday.

Winner of seven major titles in a Hall of Fame career on the LPGA circuit, Inkster partnered with Meg Mallon in both of her matches in the ninth annual ISPS Handa Cup at Old Waverly Golf Club – the site of Inkster’s first win in the U.S. Women’s Open in 1999.

The Inkster-Mallon team drew the World team’s premier pairing, Laura Davies and Trish Johnson, and the U.S. pair was no match for them. In fact, no team was in the first day of the two-day competition that concludes with 12 singles matches on Sunday.

Davies and Johnson were 5-under-par in winning their best ball match with Inkster and Mallon on Old Waverly’s front nine. Matchups were shuffled for the afternoon nine-hole matches, played in a modified alternate shot format.

The format change didn’t cool off the Davies-Johnson team. They were also 5-under in polishing off the U.S. team of Val Skinner and Rosie Jones in the last match of the day. The result created a 12-12 tie, meaning today’s singles matches will decide who gets the Handa Cup.

Davies, Johnson and eight other members of the current World team also played last year, when the U.S. was beaten for the first time. The U.S. still leads the series 6-1-1, but the World squad has a draw and victory in the last two.

Inkster and Mallon recovered from their morning defeat to defeat Liselotte Neumann and Alicia Dibos in the first match of the afternoon session. The U.S. trailed 7-5 after the morning session and the Inkster-Mallon effort was a springboard to tying up the competition at the end of the day.

Davies and Johnson have been factors on more than just the Legends circuit, for players who have reached their 45th birthday, this season. The long-hitting Davies finished in the top 10 at the Women’s British Open and Johnson won the Scottish Open.

That dynamic duo was broken up for singles play, but World captain Sally Little put them in prominent positions for the final day of the competition as well. Little had first choice in the pairings decisions for Sunday, and she opted to send Johnson out first.

U.S. captain Nancy Lopez will send Laurie Rinker against Johnson. Lopez then named Beth Daniel for the second match, where she’ll face Lorie Kane. Little came back with Davies in the third match. Her opponent? Inkster.

That could be the match of the day, as the World squad hopes to retain the Cup with a strong singles showing much like it produced last year in a 27-21 win at Hermitage in Nashville, Tenn.

Daniel was sent out first by then-U.S. captain Joanne Carner against Davies last year. Daniel took a stirring victory, but the World squad was better the rest of the way.

Notably absent from last year’s winning World side is Australian Jan Stephenson, who rolled in the 30-foot putt on the final green in the next-to-the-last match to clinch her team’s first Cup win. Stephenson is here, but pulled out of the competition on Friday due to a wrist injury.

Dawn Coe Jones, who is Little’s assistant captain, stepped into the lineup as Stephenson’s replacement and was a factor in Day 1. Playing with different partners, her teams earned points for halving both of their matches. Last year Jones was scheduled to play but came up with an injury. She helped her team win by working as a caddie instead.