Webb says she feels fresh ahead of another tilt at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open at Kooyonga starting tomorrow, having taken the best part of four months away from the game.
Five-time champion Webb is experimenting with a new, part-time schedule on the LPGA Tour in 2018 and intends spending blocks of time at home in Queensland, but said it does not necessarily indicate that she is on the verge of retirement.
The 43-year-old said she felt “there’s a little bit left there’’ for her in the professional game, although she has not won a tournament since 2014.
“I don't know if you’ll ever hear me tell you that I’m retired,’’ she told the media today. “I can play golf until I’m 85. I might be invited to make an appearance at a golf tournament. To me, I’m still a professional golfer when I’m going out and making that appearance. I might not be as good a golfer as I was. The US Legends Tour is growing and I’m only a couple of years away from that actually.
“I feel like even if I play in those and I’m not dead serious about it, I’m going out there to catch up with people I’ve spent my whole life with, so no, I don’t have time limits. If this part-time thing works, I might do it for a few years, but it’s sort of unknown. I might not be competitive. I’m not someone that’s going to play LPGA events just so people can say it’s great to see me, I want to feel competitive.’’
Webb cited a figure of 10 tournaments for 2018 as a target, up to and including the Women’s British Open, and intends watching a few North Queensland Cowboys games while she is at home. It is the Steve Stricker method of cherry-picking the bigger tournaments and the events that she likes.
Which of course includes the Australian Open, which she won for the fifth time in 2014 at Victoria. She comes into this week’s tournament with no form to speak of, but she is happy with her practise. It could be a struggle for her as it was at Royal Adelaide last year (she missed the cut), but she would not be alone in finding difficulty.
Kooyonga bared its teeth in winds gusting to 60 km/h for pro-am day and the consensus among the players is that it will play tough this week. “This golf course is certainly going to test anybody’s golf game,’’ said Cristie Kerr, the American veteran who is No. 9 in the world. “It’s a very challenging course. It’s a good test. You have to control your golf ball and you have to be a short game wizard out there but, have good touch around the greens. “
Kerr won twice last year, including once in her 40s, the first woman to do so since 2011. While it comes across as a young woman’s game, in truth, it is everyone’s game.
“I’ve been on tour a long time,’’ said Kerr, who has indulged her love of wine-collecting in Adelaide this week. “I still really enjoy it. I enjoy getting out to practice. I enjoy the challenge of how you feel when you step on that first tee every day, being in contention, it never gets old, it’s not boring and it’s really, really hard work every day, so you have your hurt and your mind has to be in it, and I feel like I still am there.’’
She referenced veterans like Juli Inkster as her inspiration, adding that love of the game sustained them, just as it does her. “I do love what I do. It’s a really hard job, travel’s not easy but I love it, I always have.’’
Kerr is one of four players in the field ranked in the world’s top 10, and South Korea’s So Yeon Ryu at No. 3 is the highest-ranked. Ryu scaled to No. 1 in the world last year before losing top spot to Lexi Thompson, but she is back on track again now.
“I think Kooyonga is a fantastic golf course,’’ she said. “You have to have all sorts of shots to play really well. You have to know how to draw, how to fade and then greens, not like really small greens, but because it’s so undulated, you only can land on a few spots, so you have to be smart to get close to the pin, and sometimes just middle of the greens with that spot, you don’t really need to hit the pin.”
Another former world No. 1 Lydia Ko is in the field as well, with a new caddie (Jonny Scott, who has previously caddied for various players including Karrie Webb) and a new coach, Ted Oh. Often criticised for making too many changes, Ko is continuing to seek answers having not won a tournament since 2016.