Karrie Webb’s Presence Felt In Australia And Beyond
When talking about the global growth of women’s golf the first name that pops up is Se Ri Pak, and rightly so. Others bandied about include Laura Davies, Liselotte Neumann, Helen Alfredsson and Annika Sörenstam. Perhaps shortchanged in this discussion is Karrie Webb, without whom last week’s ISPS Handa Vic Open or this week’s ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open – both in her homeland – might not be on the LPGA schedule.
Pak’s twin LPGA major wins in 1998 ignited massive growth of Korean girls golf. Since 2004, 13 other Koreans have won 23 majors. Davies, of England, won her first of four majors in 1987 while the Swedes, Neumann in 1988 and Alfredsson in 1993, paved the way for Sörenstam, whose 1995-96 U.S. Women’s Open titles were the first of her 10 majors.
No question that Pak grew the game in Korea while Davies, Neumann. Alfredsson and Sörenstam lit a fire under golf in Europe. Their global impact is beyond dispute. But Webb, who predated Pak and was simultaneous with Sörenstam, hit the scene with such force that she qualified for the LPGA Hall of Fame at 25 and was also voted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
She was a catalyst for the game not just in Australia but also throughout Asia, where she competed often and did many corporate outings. Webb, now 44 and playing a limited schedule, including this week, got her first pro win at the 1995 Women’s British Open, before it was a major, on her way to 41 LPGA victories and seven major championships.
In all, Webb has won 57 tournaments in seven countries on four continents and five tours, including the Australian Ladies Professional Golf tour, the Ladies European Tour and the Japan LPGA. That’s having a global impact.
And Webb ran up those gaudy numbers against some of the best ever. From 1998 through 2003, four players from different parts of the world won 18 of the 24 LPGA majors, with Webb taking six while Sörenstam, Pak and America’s Juli Inkster each won four. In 2001-’02, that foursome swept all eight majors, with Webb winning three.
“Karrie grew the game in her early years by young girls like myself wanting to be just like her,” says Sarah Jane Smith, an Aussie on the LPGA 10 years younger than Webb. “Now she works really hard to grow the game and create opportunities for the next generation. She works closely with Golf Australia to make sure all the girls are getting the opportunity they deserve.”
Among the current crop of Australians helped by Webb are Minjee Lee, at 22 already a four-time LPGA winner and No. 7 in the Rolex Rankings, and Su Oh, also 22. In a bittersweet twist of fate, Lee and Oh beat out Webb for the two spots on the Australian women’s team as golf returned to the Olympics in 2016.
“Karrie’s a big idol,” says Lee. “She’s given us as much advice as we want and she’s answered our questions whenever we need. She’s kind of like Mom on tour. Well, not Mom, but Auntie I guess,” Lee says with a laugh. “She’s not that old.”
Oh, who enters her fourth LPGA season looking for her first win, says Webb has been “like a big sister” on tour. “Growing up, Minjee and I were a part of the Karrie Webb Scholarship, which is like funding as well as being able to come to the U.S. (Women’s) Open and spend a week with her,” says Oh. “(She’s) just there when we need (her) and just great support,” she says.
Jane Crafter, an Aussie who preceded Webb on tour by 15 years then worked as a TV commentator, is in a unique position to assess Karrie. “Webb’s impact on Australian women’s golf is immeasurable, really,” Crafter says. “Through her global success she’s been an incredible inspiration to young Australian amateurs and professionals alike.”
“ … I absolutely put 100 percent into the opportunity the game of golf has given me. I never took those opportunities for granted … ” – Karrie Webb
As for what made Webb a great player, Crafter says: “Mentally, Karrie was always very strong right from an early age as is her focus on goals and working towards them both in the gym and on the course. Take the 2016 Olympic Games. To represent Australia kept her drive alive and when she didn’t make it I think it was a real heartbreaker for her. Her game and her drive has not been the same since then and now she realizes it’s maybe time to wind down.”
Webb, who has played every Women’s Australian Open contested since 1994, winning five times, says her plan is to play eight to 10 tournaments this year while working with Golf Australia. “Whether girls go on to reach elite levels of the game isn’t as important as getting as many girls playing golf as possible,” she says.
“I’m just happy to have been part of the early part of their careers and love being the cheerleader while watching how they grow and improve from year to year,” she says about Lee and Oh. “Both girls know, as do all the other girls that have gone through my scholarships series, that I’m always available for anything they might need advice with.”
That’s how Webb has always done things – all the way, never giving a token effort. From 1996 through 2017, she played 92 of the 93 majors, missing only the 2004 Women’s British Open when family matters kept her away. Watching Webb on the golf course for a quarter century, it is clear she’s always set the bar for herself very high.
“The thing that makes me the most proud of my career is that I absolutely put 100 percent into the opportunity the game of golf has given me,” Webb says. “I never took those opportunities for granted and when my playing days are over I will have no regrets that I didn’t get the utmost out of my talent.”
And when her playing days are over, Webb will be remembered not only as a great player but also as an impactful ambassador and willing mentor. When her era is assessed, Karrie Webb will claim her rightful place as one of the pioneers who knocked down the walls around golf and expanded its borders.
Karrie Webb watches her tee shot on the 14th hole during the second round of the 2018 U.S. Women’s Open. Photo: Darren Carroll, USGA
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