Karrie Webb: you can't dispute the support that Evian has given women's golf
Karrie Webb is a traditionalist when it comes to golf, and like a few in the industry, her eyebrows were raised when she first heard that the Evian tournament in France would become an LPGA major this year.
Hall-of-famer Webb has been on the LPGA board of directors since 2011; she was aware that the tournament’s organisers had been pushing for major status for some years.
But as the historic day beckons this Thursday, Webb has come around to a more pragmatic way of thinking. “Someone said to me recently, ‘you’ve got the four traditional LPGA majors’ and I said ‘what are they’?’’ Webb told golf.org.au from the spa resort town of Evian-les-Bains on the shores of Lake Geneva on Tuesday.
“Look, Frank Riboud (the tournament chairman) has wanted it to become a major for quite a while. And I’m involved in the board and it was already in train. The fact is we haven’t had anyone since Colgate who’s put that kind of money into the sport over a consistent period. The only reason the US (Women’s) Open is the same prize pool is because the USGA waited to see what Evian was putting up and then matched it. They didn’t want to be playing for a lower prize pool."
“In the end we gave him a list of 10 things he needed to do to get major status. So it was pretty hard to say ‘no’ when he came back and he’d done all those things, one by one," Webb said.
The truth is that the women’s majors are not so set in stone.
For instance the Women’s British Open was not given major status until 2000 (Webb’s 1997 and 1999 victories in that tournament are not counted in her collection of seven majors).
The Canadian Open used to be a major (and was called the duMaurier Classic) but lost that status in 2000. In the 1960s there was an event called the Titleholders Championship which was a major; that tournament has been reactivated, but is now not a major. The Kraft Nabisco Championship started in 1972 but was not a major until 1983. The Western Open, first played in 1930, was a major from the LPGA’s inception in 1950 until 1967.
So now the 12-year-old Evian Masters has become the Evian Championship, and there will be five women’s majors for the time being, when in the past there have been as few as two.
As Webb told lpga.com recently, it’s fluid. “When you look at the history of the LPGA, not all of golf but the LPGA, we’ve had two majors, three majors, four majors. Kathy Whitworth (winner of an all-time record 88 LPGA tournaments in the 1960s and 1970s) played a big part of her career only playing two majors. We’ve never been set in stone with four majors, so once you learn that, and you can’t dispute the support that Evian has given to women’s golf and the LPGA in the last 12 years ... and they’ve stepped up commitments to become a major. When you weigh all that up, it’s a win-win for us.’’
The Evian Resort Golf Club has been remodelled for the occasion, with 18 new greens and some rerouting of holes. Webb found it “a little new’’ in condition, but believes the changes will ultimately make it more suited to a major.
The tournament is worth $3.25 million, and will attract all the best players in the world including No. 1 Inbee Park, the relentless South Korean player who has already won three majors this season. World No. 2 Stacy Lewis, who won the Women’s British Open at St Andrews recently, is another who will be highly-fancied, along with Webb, who at the ripe age of 38 has risen to No. 6 in the world on the back of one of her best seasons in some time.
The Queenslander won the Shoprite tournament in New Jersey in June, and was tied-fifth in the Kraft Nabisco Championship as well as tied-13th at the Women’s US Open. But she missed the cut at St Andrews and in the Canadian Open more recently.
“It (St Andrews) just came out of the blue,’’ she told golf.org.au. “I’ve never really played St Andrews well. I hit enough greens, but the ones that I missed, they really hurt me. I didn’t hit it that well at the Canadian Open. But I’ve ironed those things out now.’’
While the venue has been changed up, it is familiar territory for Webb, the former world No. 1. She won the Evian Masters in 2006 and was runner-up to Inbee Park last year.
Well and truly ensconced in the veteran category, she continues to amaze with her resilience and her undiminished love of competing, and she is hungry.
“I’m really looking forward to getting back into contention,’’ she said.