Karrie Webb: The transformation of a champion


Karrie Webb peeled off her wraparound shades and revealed more emotion than she had shown in any of her other major championship victories. The tears streaming down her face were unstoppable. The occasion was indeed historic. More than becoming the youngest woman to complete the career Grand Slam, Webb showed she was not just a phenomenal player who acknowledged cheers with only a slight wave or subtle fist pump. It was an amazing transformation. At times distrustful of reporters who often criticized her for being aloof, Webb invited them into her soul after her two-stroke victory at the LPGA Championship on Sunday. Her voice cracking, she talked openly about her gravely ill grandfather in Australia, how she didn’t even want to play the final round, and how hollow it all felt when it was over. “It’s a special occasion for me, but right now it isn’t for my family,” she said. “It will sink in eventually, and I know it will be really special.” Coming off an eight-stroke victory in the U.S. Women’s Open just three weeks earlier, Webb was a favorite to win the LPGA Championship and win the career Grand Slam in just two years — about half the time it took Tiger Woods between the first leg and the last. Her parents were in the gallery at DuPont Country Club, but not on Sunday. An hour before their 26-year-old daughter teed off with a three-stroke lead, Rob and Evelyn Webb were on a plane back to Australia. Mick Collinson, Webb’s 71-year-old grandfather, had been the model of health until he had a stroke Thursday. Even more shocking was word Saturday night that he had taken a turn for the worse. “We went from thinking that he was going to be all right … to not being so good,” Webb said. “He hasn’t passed yet. They don’t know how many days it will be.” Asked for a fond memory of her grandfather, Webb managed a smile. “When I was 4 years old, my grandmother and my granddad used to take me out on Sunday mornings to play nine holes with them,” she said. “I used to have my plastic club and my plastic ball and I would play three or four holes. Then Granddad would put me on the back of his trolley for the remainder of the holes. “They were about the only two people in the world who were patient enough to go out with a 4-year-old and play golf on a Sunday morning.” From there, Webb embarked on a career that already ranks among the greatest in women’s golf. She won the Women’s British Open when she was 20. She qualified for the LPGA Tour on her first attempt, finishing second despite playing with a broken wrist. As a rookie, she became the first woman to break the US$1 million mark in season earnings. The others are Juli Inkster, Pat Bradley and Mickey Wright, who was 27 when she completed the slam and is regarded as the greatest woman golfer of all time. Inkster never saw Wright play, “but I can’t believe anybody could be as good as Karrie.” “If she keeps up this pace, she’s going to shatter all the records,” Inkster said. So good is Webb that Wendy Ward, four strokes behind going into the final round, assessed her chances by saying, “We’re in big trouble.” Little did they know that Webb was making plans to go home with her parents on Saturday night, a chance to win the Grand Slam no longer important. “My dad didn’t sleep very well, and he talked to the rest of my family and they all wanted me to play because Granddad would have wanted me to,” Webb said. “The only thing I wanted to do was win for my granddad. That’s all I kept thinking about it.” No one else knew the turmoil she faced except for her caddie, Mike Patterson. Only later did her demeanor make sense. She walked alone to the side of the tee box, put a towel across a waist high wooden fence and leaned against it, arms folded as she stared into space. “Between shots, my thoughts were not necessarily on the golf course,” Webb confided later. “Inside the ropes, I think I have some sort of control of blocking things out, and I think I did that for the most part.” Webb left Monday morning for Australia, hopeful she could get home in time, a new perspective on golf. Odds are, the public will have a different outlook toward Webb when she returns.