Webb Highlights Hall of Fame Class
It seems like a big jump from that memory to be standing before you tonight, Webb said Monday, when she became the youngest player inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
If it seemed like warp speed, thats how her career has gone.
The first LPGA Tour event she watched was the 95 Titleholders in Daytona Beach. A year later as a 21-year-old rookie, she won the Titleholders, part of a stunning season in which she became the first woman to surpass $1 million.
She won the career Grand Slam in a span of seven majors, the quickest of any player.
And she was among five inducted at the World Golf Village, a 30-year-old who could not believe how far golf had taken her in such a short time.
In a ceremony that highlighted women, she was joined in the Hall of Fame by Ayako Okamoto of Japan. Inducted posthumously were Willie Park Sr., the first British Open champion; writer Bernard Darwin; and golf course architect Alister MacKenzie, whose designs include Augusta National, Cypress Point and Royal Melbourne.
Okamoto was overwhelmed to take her place in the Hall of Fame, comparing herself with the tortoise from Aesops Fables, a slow journey in which she was willing to leave the comfort of Japan to take on the best in the world. Okamoto won 17 times on the LPGA Tour, and won the money title and player of the year in 1987.
She was humbled upon seeing the names of the others enshrined.
They practically made the history of golf in this world, Okamoto said. And to be a part of it is such an honor.
The induction brings membership in the Hall of Fame to 109. Vijay Singh was elected on the PGA Tour ballot, but deferred his induction.
For Webb, it couldnt get here soon enough.
Webb took the LPGA Tour by such force that she needed only five years to reach the required 27 points'one point for a victory and major award, two points for majors'then had to put in her 10 years on tour to be eligible.
Its something I never dreamed I would achieve, she said.
She was the most dominant newcomer to the LPGA Tour since Nancy Lopez, winning twice, finishing in the top 10 in her first six tournaments and winning four times. No other rookie, male or female, had ever won over $1 million.
But she really made her mark in the majors.
Webb won her first one in 1999 at the du Maurier Classic outside Calgary with four birdies on the last five holes. The rest of her majors came easily. She won by 10 shots at the 2000 Kraft Nabisco, then won the U.S. Womens Open by five shots at the Merit Club.
But the final piece of the career Grand Slam was the toughest.
She had a three-shot lead going into the final round of the 01 LPGA Championship, but learned that morning her grandfather, Mick Collinson, suffered a stroke in Australia and was dying. Webb wanted to withdraw, but her parents persuaded her to play, and she fought through tears to win by three.
Her grandfather died a few hours before she made it home.
Greg Norman was a huge influence, too. Webb watched the Shark win the 86 Queensland Open, then came home and told her parents she wanted to be a professional golfer. She won a junior event at 16, and the prize was spending a week with the Shark at his Florida home.
Webb never imagined she would join him in the Hall of Fame.
Webb won the U.S. Womens Open twice'by four and eight shots.
And when she captured the Womens British Open at Turnberry in 2002, she became the only woman to win the Super Slam'all five LPGA majors available, with the British Open having replaced the du Maurier in 2001.
When I look at that time in my career, I couldnt do anything wrong, she said. Even if I didnt feel great about my game, I somehow found a way to get it in the hole. Every major I entered, I knew I had a very, very good chance of winning on Sunday.
Her only regret was that Kelvin Haller, her longtime coach in Ayr, couldnt be at the World Golf Village. Haller was paralyzed in an accident when Webb was 16, although their bond was so strong that they worked on her swing through simple conversation or by video.
Webb never embraced stardom, and her wraparound shades made her an enigma to some early in her career. But behind those glasses were high expectations and emotions that she bared on a warm night in northern Florida.
Ive never wanted to draw attention to myself, she said.
But my golf game has done that for me.
Attention followed Okamoto, and it was a burden.
The Japanese womens tour was thriving, and she was under pressure to play her home tour to appease sponsors. But she knew the stiffest challenge was in the United States, and she spent 10 years on the LPGA Tour, impressing her peers with her personality and her game.
She was and is a symbol of pride for her country, said Beth Daniel, who introduced her.
After Further Review: Haas crash strikes a chord
Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.
On the horrifying car crash involving Bill Haas ...
I spent a lot of time this week thinking about Bill Haas. He was the passenger in a car crash that killed a member of his host family. That man, 71-year-old Mark Gibello, was a successful businessman in Pacific Palisades, Calif., and a new friend.
Haas escaped without any major injuries, but he withdrew from the Genesis Open to return home to Greenville, S.C. When he’ll return to the Tour is anyone’s guess. It could be a while, as he grapples with the many emotions after surviving that horrifying crash – seriously, check out the photos – while the man next to him did not.
The entire Haas clan is some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Wish them the best in their recovery. – Ryan Lavner
On TIger Woods' missed cut at the Genesis Open ...
After missing the cut at the Genesis Open by more than a few car lengths, Tiger Woods appeared to take his early exit in stride. Perhaps that in and of itself is a form of progress.
Years ago, a second-round 76 with a tattered back-nine scorecard would have elicited a wide range of emotions. But none of them would have been particularly tempered, or optimistic, looking ahead to his next start. At age 42, though, Woods has finally ceded that a win-or-bust mentality is no longer helpful or productive.
The road back from his latest surgery will be a winding one, mixed with both ups and downs. His return at Torrey Pines qualified as the former, while his trunk slam at Riviera certainly served as the latter. There will surely be more of both in the coming weeks and months, and Woods’ ability to stomach the rough patches could prove pivotal for his long-term prognosis. - Will Gray
On the debate over increased driving distance on the PGA Tour ...
The drumbeat is only going to get louder as the game’s best get longer. On Sunday, Bubba Watson pounded his way to his 10th PGA Tour title at the Genesis Open and the average driving distance continues to climb.
Lost in the debate over driving distances and potential fixes, none of which seem to be simple, is a beacon of sanity, Riviera Country Club’s par-4 10th hole. The 10th played just over 300 yards for the week and yet yielded almost as many bogeys (86) as birdies (87) with a 4.053 stroke average.
That ranks the 10th as the 94th toughest par 4 on Tour this season, ahead of behemoths like the 480-yard first at Waialae and 549-yard 17th at Kapalua. Maybe the game doesn’t need new rules that limit how far the golf ball goes, maybe it just needs better-designed golf holes. - Rex Hoggard
On the depth of LPGA talent coming out of South Korea ...
The South Korean pipeline to the LPGA shows no signs of drying up any time soon. Jin Young Ko, 22, won her LPGA debut as a tour member Sunday at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, and Hyejin Choi, 18, nearly won the right to claim LPGA membership there. The former world No. 1 amateur who just turned pro finished second playing on a sponsor exemption. Sung Hyun Park, who shared Rolex Player of the Year honors with So Yeon Ryu last year, is set to make her 2018 debut this week at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And Inbee Park is set to make her return to the LPGA in two weeks at the HSBC Women’s World Championship after missing most of last year due to injury. The LPGA continues to go through South Korea no matter where this tour goes. - Randall Mell
Nature calls: Hole-out rescues Bubba's bladder
LOS ANGELES – Clinging to a one-stroke lead, Bubba Watson had just teed off on the 14th hole at Riviera Country Club and was searching for a bathroom.
“I asked Cameron [Smith], ‘where's the bathroom?’ He said, ‘On the next tee there's one. Give yourself a couple more shots, then you can go to the bathroom,’” Watson recalled. “I said, ‘So now I'm just going to hole it and go to the bathroom.’”
By the time Watson got to his shot, which had found the bunker left of the green, his caddie Ted Scott had a similar comment.
“When he went down to hit it I said, ‘You know you haven’t holed one in a long time,’” Scott said.
Watson’s shot landed just short of the hole, bounced once and crashed into the flagstick before dropping into the hole for an unlikely birdie and a two-stroke lead that he would not relinquish on his way to his third victory at the Genesis Open and his 10th PGA Tour title.
“I looked at Teddy [Scott] and said, ‘You called it.’ Then Cameron [who was paired with Watson] came over and said I called it. I’d forgotten he and I had talked about it,” Watson said.
Bubba Golf takes long road back to winner's circle
LOS ANGELES – Bubba’s back.
It’s been just two years since he hoisted a trophy on the PGA Tour, but with a mind that moves as fast as Bubba Watson’s, it must have felt like an eternity.
Since his last victory, which was also a shootout at Riviera Country Club in 2016, Watson was passed over for a captain’s pick at the 2016 Ryder Cup, endured a mystery illness, lost his confidence, his desire and the better part of 40 pounds.
He admits that along that ride he considered retirement and wondered if his best days were behind him.
“I was close [to retirement]. My wife was not close,” he conceded. “My wife basically told me to quit whining and play golf. She's a lot tougher than I am.”
What else could he do? With apologies to his University of Georgia education and a growing portfolio of small businesses, Watson was made to be on the golf course, particularly a golf course like Riviera, which is the canvas that brings out Bubba’s best.
In a game that can too often become a monotonous parade of fairways and greens, Watson is a freewheeling iconoclast who thrives on adversity. Where others only see straight lines and one-dimensional options, Bubba embraces the unconventional and the untried.
For a player who sometimes refers to himself in the third person, it was a perfectly Bubba moment midway through his final round on Sunday at the Genesis Open. Having stumbled out of the 54-hole lead with bogeys at Nos. 3 and 6, Watson pulled his 2-iron tee shot wildly right at the seventh because, “[his playing partners] both went left.”
From an impossible lie in thick rough with his golf ball 2 feet above his feet, Watson’s often-fragile focus zeroed in for one of the week’s most entertaining shots, which landed about 70 feet from the hole and led to a two-putt par.
“His feel for that kind of stuff, you can’t go to the range and practice that. You can’t,” said Watson’s caddie Ted Scott. “Put a ball 2 feet above your feet and then have to hold the face open and then to swing that easy. That’s why I have the best seat in the house. That’s the essence of Bubba golf.”
There were plenty of highlight moments on Sunday for Watson. There were crucial putts at Nos. 11 (birdie), 12 (par) and 13 (par) to break free of what was becoming an increasingly fluid leaderboard, and his chip-in birdie from a greenside bunker at the 14th hole extended his lead to two strokes.
“It was just a bunker shot, no big deal,” smiled Watson, who closed with a 69 for a two-stroke victory over Kevin Na and Tony Finau.
A player that can often appear handcuffed by the most straightforward of shots was at his best at Riviera, withstanding numerous challenges to win the Genesis Open for his 10th PGA Tour title.
That he did so on a frenzied afternoon that featured four different players moving into, however briefly, at last a share of the lead, Watson never appeared rattled. But, of course, we all know that wasn’t the case.
Watson can become famously uncomfortable on the course and isn’t exactly known for his ability to ignore distractions. But Riviera, where he’s now won three times, is akin to competitive Ritalin for Watson.
“[Watson] feels very comfortable moving the ball, turning it a lot. That allows him to get to a lot of the tucked pins,” said Phil Mickelson, who finished tied for sixth after moving to within one stroke of the lead early in round. “A lot of guys don't feel comfortable doing that and they end up accepting a 15 to 30 footer in the center of the green. He ends up making a lot more birdies than a lot of guys.”
It’s the soul of what Scott calls Bubba Golf, which is in simplest terms the most creative form of the game.
Watson can’t explain exactly what Bubba Golf is, but there was a telling moment earlier this week when Aaron Baddeley offered Watson an impromptu putting lesson, which Bubba said was the worst putting lesson he’d ever gotten.
“He goes, ‘how do you hit a fade?’ I said, ‘I aim it right and think fade.’ How do you hit a draw? I aim it left and think draw,” Watson said. “He said, ‘how do you putt?’ I said, ‘I don't know.’ He said, ‘well, aim it to the right when it breaks to the left, aim it to the left when it breaks to the right,’ exactly how you imagine your golf ball in the fairway or off the tee, however you imagine it, imagine it that way.”
It’s certain that there’s more going on internally, but when he’s playing his best the sum total of Watson’s game can be simply explained – see ball, hit ball. Anything more complicated than that and he runs the risk of losing what makes him so unique and – when the stars align and a course like Riviera or Augusta National, where he’s won twice, asks the right questions – virtually unbeatable.
That’s a long way from the depths of 2017, when he failed to advance past the second playoff event and dropped outside the top 100 in the Official World Golf Ranking. But then, Watson has covered a lot of ground in his career on his way to 10 Tour victories.
“I never thought I could get there,” he said. “Nobody thought that Bubba Watson from Bagdad, Fla., would ever get to 10 wins, let's be honest. Without lessons, head case, hooking the ball, slicing the ball, can't putt, you know? Somehow we're here making fun of it.”
Somehow, through all the adversity and distractions, he found a way to be Bubba again.
Spieth: 'I feel great about the state of my game'
LOS ANGELES – Jordan Spieth is starting to feel confident again with the putter, which is probably a bad sign for the rest of the PGA Tour.
Spieth struggled on the greens two weeks ago at TPC Scottsdale, but he began to right the ship at Pebble Beach and cracked the top 10 this week at the Genesis Open. Perhaps more important than his final spot on the leaderboard was his standing in the strokes gained putting category – 12th among the field at Riviera Country Club, including a 24-putt performance in the third round.
Spieth closed out the week with a 4-under 67 to finish in a tie for ninth, five shots behind Bubba Watson. But after the round he spoke like a man whose preparation for the season’s first major is once again right on track.
“I was kind of, you know, skiing uphill with my putting after Phoenix and the beginning of Pebble week, and really just for a little while now through the new year,” Spieth said. “I just made some tremendous progress. I putted extremely well this week, which is awesome. I feel great about the state of my game going forward, feel like I’m in a great place at this time of the year as we’re starting to head into major season.”
Spieth will take a break next week, and where he next tees it up remains uncertain. He still has not announced a decision about playing or skipping the WGC-Mexico Championship, and he will have until 5 p.m. ET Friday to make a final decision on the no-cut event.
Whether or not he flies down to Mexico City, Spieth’s optimism has officially returned after a brief hiccup on the West Coast swing.
“For where I was starting out Phoenix to where I am and how I feel about my game going forward the rest of the year, there was a lot of progress made,” he said. “Now I’ve just got to figure out what the best schedule is for myself as we head into the Masters.”