BIRMINGHAM, Ala - For 23 years, Karrie Webb has been an anchor of the LPGA – and one of the best players of her generation. A member of both the World Golf Hall of Fame and the LPGA Tour Hall of Fame, the 43-year-old Australian is transitioning into a new phase of her life, a sort of semi-retirement with this week’s U.S. Women’s Open only her fourth tournament of the year.
And she might not even be here if not for a special exemption from the USGA, an honor well deserved considering she is the last woman to successfully defend the title, winning in 2000 and 2001. With 41 LPGA victories, seven major championships and having played 92 of the 93 majors from 1996 through 2017, Webb is truly one of the icons of the women’s game, not to mention one of the best ball-strikers ever.
“I'm very happy to be here,” Webb said Wednesday at a soggy Shoal Creek, which didn’t open up to practice rounds until 1 p.m. because of nearly four inches of rain in the previous 48 hours. “I'm thankful to the USGA for granting me the special exemption. The U.S. Open is a special golf tournament. I think it is the ultimate in our sport. Anyone would want a U.S. Open on their résumé.“
Webb’s résumé is crammed with accomplishments. Perhaps most impressive is that her seven major titles came in five different events – the ANA Inspiration, KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, the Ricoh Women’s British Open, the U.S. Women’s Open and the now-defunct du Maurier Classic – making her the only player to accomplish the Super Slam. And a runner-up finish in the 2014 Evian Championship nearly gave her the Six-Pack Slam.
Also part of Webb’s legacy is the work she’s done with junior golf in her native Australia, mentoring such emerging starts as Su Oh and Minjee Lee, who won last week’s LPGA Volvik Championship. That’s also a key component in her decision to cut back on her playing schedule.
“Part of the reason for the change or the limiting my schedule is, you know, I wanted to start spending more time at home in Australia,” Webb said. “I spent from the week before the Australia Open until the middle of April and that was longest consecutive amount of time I have spent in Australia for 22 years. Just being home felt good.”
Webb’s vast experience places her in a good position to offer insight into the challenges of this U.S. Women’s Open, where weather has greatly limited practice opportunities. “I think this week it will test our patience in different areas,” she said. “I was fortunate, I played 18 holes Monday morning. I was in Florida Sunday, so I already knew what was coming,” she said about her wily veteran move.
Throughout her career, Webb has been a workhorse, playing 480 LPGA events from 1996 through 2017. “This is only my fourth tournament of the year,” Webb said. “I played in the Australia Open and took two and a half months off before I played again. Everyone is blaming me for the rain, by the way. I played Dallas and we only played 36 holes and I played Kingsmill and we only played 54 holes. So, it's partially my fault, I guess.”
As for what the future might bring, that is still a work in progress. “I have enjoyed coming back and competing.,” said Webb, who will play an active schedule through the Ricoh Women’s British Open in August. “My mind and body feel really fresh. This is a real experimental year as far as with where I am at with playing part-time,” she says, adding that she never though she could be a part-timer.
“I have always been a grinder and practicer,” she said. “I thought if I didn't put the time in and I didn't play well, I didn't deserve to because I didn't work hard enough. That's sort of been my motto. That change in mindset is something that is the experiment to see if I cannot have to do the grind and still enjoy the few tournaments that I play.”
But after nearly a quarter century as a professional golfer, Webb is ready to experience other aspects of life.
“Being around my family and going to gymnastics and soccer matches,” Webb said about her new-found joys. “And one of my nieces plays golf, playing golf with her. Just normal stuff with my family was enjoyable."
That sounds like a winning combination. But make no mistake about it, Webb will give it her all at Shoal Creek. And don’t be surprised if you see her make another run at winning the Evian and filling out her six-pack.