Karrie Webb says she is far from done as a professional player, and her record suggest she is on the money. She is back into the top 10 in the women’s world rankings after her LPGA Tour victory in New Jersey last weekend, it was the Queenslander’s second tournament win for 2013, after her triumph at the Australian Ladies Masters in February, and not going away despite her 38 years.
With a No. 8 world ranking and momentum on her side, the veteran approaches the season’s second major, the Wegmans LPGA Championship at Locust Hill Country Club near Rochester, New York this week, with optimism. The $US2.25 million tournament tees off on Thursday night, Australian time.
Webb is unsure what sort of omen a win so close to a major will be, but she is philosophical. “I’ll take the wins whenever they come, it’s great,’’ she told Golf Australia from Rochester today. “It gives me confidence, not just for this week, but I’ve got a big six or seven weeks coming up. It gives me confidence for this whole next run. I’m feeling good about things.’’
Webb had a few drinks in New Jersey after last Sunday’s win, closed out in clinical fashion with a three-under-par 69 in tough, windy conditions. “It was a late night,’’ she said. “Fortunately I had a few friends around to celebrate with.’’
While it left her feeling a little jaded on Monday, it is symbolic of her approach as a 30-something player, for she has acknowledged that as a young, driven woman who quickly won all of the game’s majors, she failed to smell the roses along the way.
“I guess if someone saw me on a day that I shot 75, I wouldn’t look like I’m enjoying it,’’ she said. “But I guess that I enjoy my successes a lot more. I don’t take them for granted as much. I enjoy the good golf and I enjoy the challenge a bit more. It didn’t come easily to me, but now that I think about that, it did. When the going’s good, I’m going to appreciate it a lot more than I did in my 20s.’’
Webb, a winner of seven major championships and an astonishing 54 tournaments worldwide, has spoken about the enjoyment factor for some years now since she began consulting sports psychologist Noel Blundell. But only now is she appearing to grasp it, with 54 straight cuts made on the LPGA, and four top-10 finishes this year leaving her fifth on the money list.
Her career is unique, heavily loaded toward the early part. Having won all the biggest tournaments in the world before she had reached her mid-20s, it left a huge vacuum for her to fill beyond that. She was overtaken by Annika Sorenstam, who did it all and then retired, just as Lorena Ochoa did. Hence, Webb is often asked how much longer she will play. “My example is that (American) Juli Inkster had two of her best years in her 40s, and I’m still a little way off that,’’ she said.
“I’ve always said as long as I’m willing to do the hard work, I know that I should be competitive. It’s when I wake up in the morning and go ‘I don’t think I’ll go practise today’, and that happens a lot, then I’ll know that I’m not willing to put that hard work in.’’
Three years ago, she began at least contemplating the notion of retirement, sounding as though it was close. Now she has said she will stay on tour at least until golf makes its return to the Olympic Games in 2016, where she wants to represent Australia.
Webb is fiercely Australian; she still wears the boxing kangaroo logo on her golf cap and often bobs up at matches involving the national men’s cricket team. When Adam Scott won the Masters tournament at Augusta National in April, she was overcome with excitement.
She was in Hawaii preparing for a tournament and attending the 50th birthday party of fellow touring professional and friend Meg Mallon, who snapped a photograph of an exultant Webb leaping around as Scott rolled in the final putt to snap the Australian drought at Augusta, and posted it on twitter.com. “I didn’t even know anyone was taking that photo,’’ she said today. “Oh my God. Two years back when (Charl) Schwartzel won, there were three Aussies in it with a chance, and I called it early: ‘No way know is an Aussie NOT winning today!’ Of course it didn’t happen so I was so nervous this time. I honestly felt like I’d won a golf tournament myself that day. It’s just so fitting that Adam was the one to do it.’’
She dedicated the win in New Jersey last weekend to her 87-year-old grandmother, who is in hospital in north Queensland, but there is good news on that front. Merion Webb has made a miraculous recovery, perhaps inspired by her granddaughter’s victory. “The family are saying it’s the best she’s looked in years,’’ said Webb today.
“But we weren’t talking like that last Wednesday and Thursday when mum and dad rang me. We were discussing when the funeral might be. It’s an amazing turnaround. I didn’t sleep great that night. I thought maybe I should fly home Thursday and if the funeral was going to be Monday, I would still get back for this (tournament) this week. I spoke to Grandma and she told me I was not to come home. So I did what I was told!’’
Locust Hill is generally familiar to Webb, who has won two LPGA tournaments at the course (in 1999 and 2001) before it became a major venue. She was also tied-sixth there in the LPGA Championship last year, when the Chinese player Shanshan Feng won.
This week, she sees the course as set up to be exceptionally tough. American Cristie Kerr said today that the Locust Hill rough was so thick that it was like playing on a course with water hazards along every hole.
“After playing it today, it’s the type of rough you can’t even think about moving it to the green,’’ said Webb. “You just hit it down (the fairway) and wedge it in. Most of the fairways are 20 yards wide at most, some even narrower.
“It’s always had a big-tournament feel to it. It’s going to produce a major tournament-type score. I don’t see too many under winning this week. It’s going to be quite penal if you miss the fairway.’’