A couple of weeks ago Karrie Webb declared that it is the 2016 Rio Olympics – and of representing Australia when golf returns to the Olympics – that drives her most these days with, of course, the added benefits flowing as a result, but in recent months she’s also been thinking of what lies ahead post Olympics.
Webb, now 38, certainly won’t be quitting playing, but the schedule might be cut back – “Golf is a sport you don’t necessarily have to say you’re going to retire, but my long term vision ends at the Olympics but it doesn’t mean I’ll end playing,”
So, what might be the path she takes away from the regular grind of tournament play?
It is with that question that a side to Webb that is rarely seen is exposed. It’s her care for others and what she can do to help them. Her support for the Christopher Reeve Foundation that supports the treatment and cure of paralysis caused by spinal cord injury is well known. Reeve, the movie Superman, became a quadriplegic after a horse riding accident while Webb’s first coach Kelvin Haller was also bound to life in a wheelchair by an accident at Ayr Golf Club.
Obviously she wants to do more for that organisation, but here in Australia – well north Queensland to be precise – she sees a huge problem and would dearly love to see rectified.
Yes, Webb will never forget her old hometown of Ayr where, early on in her career, she bought the closed movie house and reopened it for the local folk. Les Miserables was showing last week when she was home, but she had already seen it in the US, and admits to crying during the movie.
She also cries inside the state health care in north Queensland.
“I don’t know whether it’s a pie in the sky kind of thought but health care up there in north Queensland is quite poor. It’s almost a waste of money to have private health insurance up there. We have one public hospital that caters for Townsville and outlying areas of a radius of probably 150kms,” she said.
“Ayr has a very small hospital but everyone has their babies in Townsville, there’s no maternity ward in Ayr. My sister has rheumatoid arthritis, and she has private health insurance but she has to see a public specialist, and she can only see them once in three months.
“I just think that where the majority of money is made in Australia is in north Queensland – that is the most of the tax money paid – but there’s just not a lot of basic health care up there. I don’t know how I can get involved but I’ve been thinking about it. My sister had her four-month son Quade in hospital – on the Gold Coast – and she said the care was fantastic. Ayr hospital had sent her elsewhere.
“I don’t know whether I’ll have any chance of making an impact, but it something that needs rectifying,” Webb says.
The seven-time major champion, who is seeking a fifth ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open title at Royal Canberra this week, had a chance to speak up to those who run the country on Tuesday when she lunched a Parliament House but it wasn’t the appropriate time even though it was the right place.
No, her conversations over lunch were with Federal Sports Minister Kate Lundy with a pitch for more federal funding particularly for women’s golf. Webb will keep working on that down the track.
Back in the mid-1990s when the teenage Webb so forcefully introduced herself to the wider golfing audience she was a shy young kid who found dealing with the media quite nerve-wracking. Then, as the years progressed and her victories accumulated, she became wary of the media for one of our number had burned her along the way.
That’s past history – thank goodness. Webb is now articulate and open, almost statesman – or should that be stateswoman – like in what she says. It is Normanesque without the, well, sometimes over-the-top comments that we heard from Greg Norman.
“Yeah, I learned from him,” she laughingly said.
And, there is humour in what she says and her interaction with the media interrogators. You’ll read my colleague Martin Blake’s yarn on world No 1 Yani Tseng on this website and there was a lovely little exchange in Wednesday press conference when he sought Webb’s view on Tseng’s year of 2012.
“Yeah, that was a really terrible year she had last year, three wins, $1.5 million. I would have hated a year like that,” Webb replied, her eyes dancing with mischief.
But, lets leave the rest of Webb’s view on Tseng to Blake, for she had other observation to make of not only interest, but importance. For instance, when asked of whether Tseng was the player most likely this week, or whether it was anyone else.
Webb replied: “I don’t single out any players in particular. I think you could say one of the hottest players in the world right now is Lydia Ko, and she’s a 15-year-old amateur. So, I don’t really target any person.”
A couple of weeks ago, Webb won her eighth Australian Ladies Masters title at Royal Pines, a tournament she skipped in 2012 because it didn’t fit her LPGA schedule. This year, she came to the tournament’s rescue when was reduced to 54 holes and $250,000 prize money after its major sponsor of years withdrew its support.
“I honestly felt a little bit of pressure to play. I won’t lie. The state of where the tournament is right now is disappointing to me. I know Bob (Tuohy, the tournament promoter) has worked tirelessly just to have the event … it would be to the detriment of women’s golf in this country if we weren’t to have at least two major professional events on TV. I think young girls need to have that inspiration,” she said.
Webb has played the Royal Canberra once before, as a 14-year-old in the national schoolgirls championships in 1989. She had few recollections of the course, save for it was in August and it was freezing cold. It was during the airline pilots strike, so she and the team travelled to Canberra on an RAAF Hercules (one of many brought in by the government to break the strike) and the bussed back to Ayr.
“I didn’t play very well in the individual. There was a 90-something thrown in there at one point. It was a bit cold in the morning for me,” she said.
That 90-something is not a scar she’ll carry into Thursday’s first round. It wasn’t as if it was last week, or even last year. She was just 14, but there’s the scary bit – Ko is just one year older than that, and one of the tournament favourites.