Davidge Carrying on Family’s Athletic Legacy Through Golf September 22, 2018 | Charlotte, N.C. By Stuart Hall

Ohio native Rob Davidge came from a family of NCAA Division I athletes, but he's the first one to excel in golf. (USGA/Chris Keane)

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Rob Davidge really had no choice but learn how to play golf.

Davidge was a toddler when his father, Bill, the head men’s hockey coach at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, bought a house that abutted the Oxford Country Course.

On many a summer day and evening, Rob rode in a cart with his father or tended the flagstick for him. As he grew older, Rob would put a club under his left arm and putt cross-handed, his father giving him two strokes per green in a competition for ice cream.

“Golf was like a babysitter,” said Bill Davidge, who was a widowed father.

On Jan. 27, 1985, Leann Grimes-Davidge, 29, Rob’s mother and then coach of Miami’s women’s team, died from injuries sustained in a car accident while returning home from a recruiting trip. Rob was not yet 15 months old.

“I never really had the chance to have a relationship with her,” said Rob, 34, a financial planner for Skylight Financial Group in Columbus, Ohio, who is playing in his first U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship this week at Charlotte Country Club and stroke-play co-host Carolina Golf Club. He opened stroke play with a disappointing 12-over 83 at Charlotte C.C. on Saturday.  

Davidge’s mother may not have had the opportunity to guide her son through his formative years into adulthood, but she did pass along quite the athletic DNA and left a legacy worth emulating.

Her father was Bob Grimes, a standout wide receiver for legendary football coach Woody Hayes at Ohio State University. Despite Hayes’ “three yards and a cloud of dust” ethos, Grimes led the Buckeyes with 39 receptions in 1952. His four touchdown receptions versus Washington State that season remains a team record.

Grimes’ daughter followed his footsteps to Ohio State, where she met Bill Davidge and established herself as one of Ohio State’s most dominant women’s tennis players, setting school records for wins in singles (68) and doubles (92). Grimes and Davidge, a hockey player at OSU, would later attend graduate school at Miami and eventually got married. Grimes-Davidge became Miami’s women’s tennis coach and, at the time of her death, had led the Red Hawks to four Mid-American Conference titles and a 25-1 conference record.

Today, Ohio State, Miami and the Mid-American Conference present awards to outstanding female student-athletes in Grimes-Davidge’s name. In 1993, she was among six inaugural inductees in Ohio State’s Women’s Varsity Hall of Fame.

“It’s really neat to hear a lot of the good things about her, and I have been able to stay connected to her through those memories and her legacy, so it’s been really special,” said Rob, who, with his father, sits in on the interview process for Ohio State’s Leann Grimes-Davidge Award that is presented annually to a female athlete who reflects the award namesake’s athletic and academic performance, along with community involvement and leadership.

“He had no idea who she was, but his [maternal] grandma and grandpa, while I was the head hockey coach at Miami, they really embraced him,” said Bill Davidge, 64, who today serves as a color analyst for the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets. “I was still trying to coach, trying to raise him, trying to teach, trying to recruit and everything else. His grandma and grandpa really stepped in.

“He obviously comes from a very athletic family, very disciplined. He’s got a lot of his mother’s traits. He’s a firecracker. Just very competitive, no matter what it is, and that’s the way his mom was. She was a sweetheart. To pass away at 29, it shows the impact she had on a lot of kids during her time.”

Golf became Rob Davidge’s lifelong friend.

“Golf and easy probably should not be associated with one another, but golf always came pretty natural,” Rob said. “There were summers where I distinctly remember there might have been two or three days where I didn’t go out and play or practice. Some days might have been nine holes, others it might have been 36 or more. I definitely loved it and as I got older there definitely wasn’t much pressure from my dad to go and play. I just wanted to play.”

And compete, which he did well. When Davidge was an early teen, a local newspaper wanted to know how many trophies Davidge had won. The total was in the neighborhood of 70. A few years later, Davidge was seeing older teammates going off and playing at the NCAA Division I level.

“I remember my uncle telling me I was going to have a lot of options to play college golf. Keep doing what I was doing,” said Davidge, who was recruited by Kent State University, but ultimately chose Miami.

Near the end of his time at Miami, he began to burn out on golf and was ready to transition into a career. He graduated in 2006 and joined Brookside Golf and Country Club in 2011.

Only recently has Davidge gotten the itch to play more competitively, though mostly in club and Ohio amateur events. The day before qualifying for the U.S. Mid-Amateur, Davidge won his club’s championship.

Two of his friends are Scott Anderson and Scott Strickland, both of whom have had recent U.S. Mid-Amateur success. Strickland, of Birmingham, Mich., reached the semifinals in 2016; Anderson, of Columbus, advanced to last year’s quarterfinals.

While encouraged by his friends’ success, Davidge does not possess many expectations for how the week will unfold. He simply wants to stay positive and play well.

Rod Spittle, 63, is a longtime friend of the Davidge family who recently retired from a respectable 13-year career on the PGA Tour Champions after a job in the corporate world. About a year ago, he told Davidge that he was “still getting better” as a golfer.

“That’s cool to hear, because maybe my best golf is in front of me,” Davidge said. “I have people telling me, ‘Oh, you’re so good at golf,’ and ‘You’re so lucky,’ but I haven’t accomplished much of anything compared to my mom.”

Grimes-Davidge would assuredly disagree. Most apples don’t usually fall too far from the tree.

Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA digital channels.

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