John Davis, a 2019 inductee into the Arizona Golf Hall of Fame and sports journalist for nearly 36 years, died early Monday after a long battle with cancer.
Davis, 73, was a fixture on the Arizona golf scene for more than 20 years and witnessed the rise of the Phoenix Open. Phil Mickelson, a San Diego native but an Arizona State hero, became the face of the event and spearheaded its massive growth into one of the world’s most attended sporting events.
And Davis was right along for the ride. Over time, the writer and the golfer formed a friendship. A typical routine after a tournament round involved Mickelson signing autographs for 20 or 30 minutes, putting pen to paper to anyone and everyone who wanted one at TPC Scottsdale. It wasn’t an uncommon sight to see him and Davis later talking to each other, sharing a smile or two and catching up as two longtime friends.
Davis eventually stopped covering the tournaments and retired in 2019, but he clearly missed the action. With many friends in the golf world, he could easily score a credential and would often swing by the media center to say ‘Hi’ to everyone.
At the 2021 Charles Schwab Cup, Mickelson’s first time qualifying for the PGA Tour Champions event, the two caught up again at Phoenix Country Club, with Davis well into his cancer battle. The day before the tournament started, as Mickelson took questions in the media scrum, Davis stood off to the side and waited, his face covered in a sign that he was taking precautions for his health but didn’t want to sit around the house all day.
When Lefty finished, he turned to see Davis and the two spent the next 20 minutes catching up, Mickelson telling him to hang in there and keep fighting.
“John fought a multi-year battle with cancer, and his friends were amazed at how much he endured and how many times he bounced back from devastating news,” said Bob Young, the Republic’s longtime director. Sun reporter and colleague of Davis. “But we knew he was a tough guy. He survived a stroke by dragging himself over a two-hour period across his living room to reach a phone, which he pulled out of a table to call 9-1 -1.
“And when I was covering the Suns beat, I came into the press room to see John typing with his right hand on his laptop while holding his left hand in the air. I asked him what was wrong and he said, that a scorpion had stung him while he was gardening. He said that holding his hand up helped with the throbbing pain. I suggested that maybe he should go home and he said that it would still be throbbing regardless he was at home or at work. He stayed and filed a sidebar and notes that night.”
Davis later had a heart bypass problem, but continued to fight without complaint.
“During the dog days of summer, when not much was happening in the sports world, four sportswriters—John, Bob Young, Dale Hajek and I—would slip out of the office early and play a quick round of Encanto,” recalled Kent Somers, who said, that he and Davis competed for a time on their beats, Somers on the Republic and Davis on the old Phoenix Gazette. The two papers merged in 1997, bringing Davis to the Republic. “Well, to me it was a quick round. To John, who was a solid player, it probably didn’t seem that quick. He never, ever complained about playing golf with a hack like me.”
Davis moved to Phoenix in the mid-80s, well before the population exploded and the city had only one professional team, the Suns.
“I found a picture his grandmother took of him leaving in a U-Haul truck in August of 1986,” said Kim Ewing, Davis’ niece, who said he began working for the Phoenix Gazette at his arrival.
“He was smart, witty and humble and worked tirelessly at WM Phoenix Opens, Masters, US Opens, State Amateurs – wherever he was assigned – to bring the most entertaining and accurate stories he possibly could to his readers,” said Bill Huffman. there Davis continued on the golf beat in the Republic. “And John always delivered, which is why he earned his place in the Arizona Golf Hall of Fame.”
As luck would have it, many years later — and perhaps as karma for all his goodwill — Davis was among the lucky members of the media to have his name drawn to play Augusta National the Monday after the Masters Tournament, a longtime tradition.
Davis wore many hats during her journalistic career. Many times it was a mentor.
“JD started as one of the standards for me in the industry and ended up being a dear friend who remained inspiringly positive through his health problems,” said Paul Coro, who joined the Republic as a young reporter in 1997. “As a mentor, he had always been encouraging and complimentary, but made me feel more like a colleague by sharing stories and laughing.The way he worked earned the respect of professionals, whether it was going way back with Dan Majerle, getting in touch with Charles Barkley quickly or having Phil Mickelson always seem to take his calls.For a guy who was great with words, the ones I will treasure the most were his kind ones about my girls growing up. “
While Davis spent a lot of time covering the professional game, he always made an effort to be there at amateur events as well.
“He was an All-Star,” said Ed Gowan, who was executive director of the Arizona Golf Association for 37 years and will retire in 2022. “To get national recognition, sometimes you have to draw attention to yourself , and he never did. He was never after the praise. It was all about the subject.”
Born in Adrian, Michigan, on February 23, 1950, Davis was drafted by the Army under Vietnam and was employed for two years. Years later, he bought a second home in Traverse City, Michigan, escaping the Phoenix heat in his later years to enjoy Midwestern summers at his cabin. Friends say he talked a lot about his place there in recent weeks, hoping to visit one last time.
“Last week he told me how much he wanted to get back there for another summer,” Somers said. “It wasn’t meant to be, but man, he lived a life.”
Pat Williams, Big Chief of The Thunderbirds, who organize the Phoenix Open each year, said: “We are saddened to hear of the passing of legendary golf writer John Davis. John covered the Phoenix Open, golf in Arizona for four decades, was a great friend of the tournament, and really the entire Thunderbird organization. Even after he retired, John would continue to come out to enjoy the Open and do what he loved, chatting with players, Thunderbirds, media and really just anyone who wanted to talk golf. John was one of a kind, he will be truly missed.”
This article originally appeared on the Arizona Republic: Arizona Hall of Fame golf writer John Davis dead at 73