Hall of Famer Webb Lets Clubs Do the Talking
Karrie Webb has been described as reserved, standoffish, even unemotional. Her wrap-around Oakleys hiding the tears of joy, or flashes of frustration, in her young eyes. But if you look, really look, those mirrored sunglasses tell you more than the 30-time champion ever could in a million interviews; stand close enough, and in those sunglasses youll see your reflection.
And thats who Karrie is -- just a small town kid, a reflection of all of us. She quietly celebrates her triumphs just like we do, and she suffers heartbreak just like the rest of us. At no time did the LPGAs superwoman seem more human than at the 2001 McDonalds LPGA Championship Presented by AIG. In the moment of her greatest victory, which included achieving the LPGA Career Grand Slam, Karrie was experiencing overwhelming anguish. That day, and in the days soon after that should have been reserved for celebration, Karrie was just as we would be: grief-stricken and inconsolable for the loss of one of her dearest family members, her maternal grandfather.
Growing up in the small town of Ayr in Queensland, Australia, Karrie was just a regular child with a special gift for the game. It was her grandparents, Mick and Joyce Collinson, who introduced Karrie to golf when she was just 4 years old. They took little Karrie out on Sunday mornings to play nine holes -- Grandma and Granddad with their golf clubs on pull carts and Karrie with her one plastic club and ball. She remembers playing three or four holes before tiring out. Then Granddad would put her on his golf bag and tote her along in the pull cart for the rest of the day.
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, said Karrie.
That patience paid off in dividends. Karrie quickly excelled at the game. At the age of eight, she shot 150 in her first tournament and was given the Encouragement Award. (It was basically the Thanks For Trying award, but I was just proud of myself for winning a trophy.) Only five years later, Karrie was breaking 80 on a regular basis. By 1994, she was the Australian Stroke Play champion. When Karrie set her sights on the LPGA Tour, not even her family, her greatest supporters, could have imagined the success she would find.
In 1996, Karrie burst onto the LPGA Tour, not with a lot of hype or self-promotion, but by letting her talent make the bold statements. She had already won the Weetabix Womens British Open prior to joining the Tour, and in just her third tournament as an LPGA professional, she won again. By the end of her rookie year, Karrie was the young gun of the LPGA. She won four times and became the first player in LPGA history to win $1 million in a single season.
I think it took me a few years to be comfortable with that instant fame and attention, and maybe Im still not completely comfortable. Looking back, that first year is still a bit of a blur to me. By the end of the season, I was pretty overwhelmed.
But when I went back home to Australia for Christmas, my family just treated me as the same old Karrie. They were proud of me, but I didnt have to worry about anything changing with them because of my success. I think thats one of the reasons I still really enjoy going home, because my family and friends dont ever treat me any differently.
Which is a good thing, since more wins followed, and followed and followed. In 1999, Karrie officially dominated the LPGA Tour -- winning six times and taking home her first Rolex Player of the Year trophy. She played, and won, a game of top this with herself, winning seven times in 2000 and another Rolex Player of the Year title. Karries win at the 2000 U.S. Womens Open gave her the requisite 27 points needed to qualify her for the LPGA Tour Hall of Fame; leaving her to play the waiting game until this season when she met the 10-year membership requirement. She had, by her own admission, achieved just about every goal she had ever set for herself in the game of golf.
By the summer of 2001, her sixth year on the LPGA Tour, Karrie owned 24 tournament titles, including three major championship wins. She lived a childhood dream for a second time by successfully defending her title at the 2001 U.S. Womens Open. What was left for the young Aussie?
At the beginning of 2001, I knew I had the opportunity to win the Career Grand Slam. Of course, I didnt really think I would complete it that year, but I knew that it was something I had the chance to do if I set my sights on it.
Only four women in LPGA history had set their sights on the Career Grand Slam and actually achieved it: Louise Suggs, 1957; Mickey Wright, 1962; Pat Bradley, 1986; and Juli Inkster, 1999. All LPGA Tour Hall of Famers, and all but Wright had completed the Career Grand Slam at the LPGA Championship. Could Karrie follow? Or would it be too much to ask of the 26-year-old?
I don't know, said Karrie in a press conference before the start of the 2001 McDonalds LPGA Championship. I think Ive just matured as a player, and the fact that I do have a chance at age 26 to complete the Career Grand Slam, not many women have done that. Its something that would be very special to me. It was only seven majors ago that I had not even won one, so it would be quite special, and Ill have achieved that really quickly as well.
Karries speculation would become certainty just four days later. It was all too perfect -- her mother and father were in town for the occasion. They rarely came to the States during the season and had not seen Karrie play in a major championship in several years. The stage was set for one of their daughters greatest triumphs, and they would be there to witness it all.
Obviously, having my family there to see me win the Grand Slam wasnt anything I could plan. But I thought if I did win it, it would be that much more special for them to share the victory with me. We had been together at the Evian Masters the week before, so it was really a great trip for them to see different parts of the world and come to a major championship. It was just good timing, I think.
But before Karrie would raise her eyes and the trophy to the sky, she was forced to conquer more than the challenging greens of DuPont Country Club.
Karrie didnt sleep at all Saturday night before the final round. She was less than 24 hours away from walking up the 18th fairway -- but she wasnt anxious about her three-stroke lead, or even restless with excitement about winning another major. Karrie had learned that her grandfather, who had suffered a stroke on Thursday in Australia, had taken a turn for the worse. Halfway around the world, the kind, gentle man who had given Karrie her first encouragement to play the game she now dominated, was slipping away.
That night, with her parents by her side, Karrie made the decision to withdraw from the tournament she was only hours away from winning. She wanted to leave for Australia the next morning with her family. But her father, Rob, knew deep down that she had to play.
He didnt feel good about me leaving. And he spoke to all of my moms family, and they all said that Granddad would not have wanted me to come home just yet. My whole family said that I should play, so I changed my mind. I wanted to win for Granddad.
It wasnt until 8 a.m. Sunday morning, less than six hours before her tee time, that Karrie made the final decision to play. Her parents boarded a plane in Philadelphia for the long trip home. Only her caddie Mike Patterson, who was carrying a golf bag as heavy as Karries heart, knew the situation.
Perhaps it was the trademark focus and determination that fooled us into thinking Karrie was all business that day. She worked her way around the golf course with the usual precise application of her exquisite golf swing. Her steady play belied the turmoil, even guilt, she felt with every putt made or missed.
It was a bit of a blur really. I dont remember a whole lot about the round. I think, to be honest, I was amazing myself at how well I was playing. But I wasnt really there. I was at home. And as well as I played, I would normally be showing some emotion. But I just couldnt find it in myself to be excited about where I was.
Karries emotions got the best of her by the end of the day. With a comfortable three-shot lead on the 18th tee, Karrie missed the fairway, missed the green, then missed a 5-footer for par. As she tapped in for bogey and a two-under-par 69 for the win, tears squeezed out from behind those steely sunglasses. It was the hardest day of her life, but she had done it.
It's really hard for me to think about this as a special occasion for me, said Karrie in her championship press conference. Right now, it isnt a special occasion for my family. I was pretty close to not even playing today, so I just -- I don't know. I didnt really do it for myself today. I did it for my granddad, and I know that it might not help out the situation, but my grandma told me on Thursday that she wanted me to win it for him.
The flight home to the other side of the world should have been a victory lap, but for Karrie, it was a grueling 25-hour trip made even longer by the uncertainty of her grandfathers condition. When she arrived home, she learned the devastating news that her granddad had already passed away. Victories and records are one thing, but the chance to say goodbye for the last time is worth more than any first-place paycheck.
It was hard to realize I had missed the chance. But I think thats how it was supposed to be -- I won the tournament for him, just like he would have wanted. Deep down, Im glad my mom got home before Granddad died. It would have been good for me to get to say goodbye, but I know it was more important for her to see her father.
Its still hard. At the Player Summit [in March 2002], they showed a year-in-review video with a clip of me winning at the McDonalds LPGA Championship and holding the trophy over my head. I didnt think it would, but it really upset me. Only I know why I was crying so hard at that moment. That win will always bring back memories of my granddad.
And when Karrie is inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame on Monday night, there is little doubt that memories of all her achievements -- which now include 30 career wins, six majors and the Super Career Grand Slam -- will come flooding back, along with all the emotions attached to those who have helped her reach her dreams. While Mick Collinson wont be there to see his granddaughter take her rightful place among the legends of the game, she will certainly share the honor with him -- not only because one of her greatest triumphs was affected by his death, but because her entire illustrious career was inspired by his life.
DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.
Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.
"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."
Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.
Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.
"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."
Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.
"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."
LPGA lists April date for new LA event
The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.
When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.
The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.
The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.
Tour's Integrity Program raises gambling questions
The video begins with an eye-opening disclaimer: “Sport betting markets produce revenues of $1 trillion each year.”
For all the seemingly elementary elements of the 15-minute video PGA Tour players have been required to watch as part of the circuit’s newly created Integrity Program, it’s the enormity of the industry – $1 trillion annually – that concerns officials.
There are no glaring examples of how sport betting has impacted golf, no red flags that sent Tour officials into damage control; just a realization that with that kind of money it’s best to be proactive.
“It's important that in that world, you can operate not understanding what's happening week in and week out, or you can assume that all of our players and everybody in our ecosystem understands that that's not an acceptable activity, or you can just be proactive and clarify and educate,” Tour commissioner Jay Monahan explained earlier this month. “That's what we have attempted to do not with just the video, but with all of our communication with our players and will continue to do that.”
But if clarification is the goal, a copy of the training video obtained by GolfChannel.com paints a different picture.
Although the essence of the policy is straightforward – “prohibit players from betting on professional golf” – the primary concern, at least if the training video is any indication, is on match fixing; and warns players to avoid divulging what is considered “inside information.”
“I thought the questions were laughable. They were all like first-grade-level questions,” Chez Reavie said. “I would like to think everyone out here already knows the answer to those questions. But the Tour has to protect themselves.”
Monahan explained that the creation of the integrity policy was not in reaction to a specific incident and every player asked last week at the Sony Open said they had never encountered any type of match fixing.
“No, not at all,” Reavie said. “I have friends who will text me from home after a round, ‘Oh, I bet on you playing so-and-so.’ But I make it clear I don’t want to know. I don’t gamble like that. No one has ever approached me about losing a match.”
It was a common answer, but the majority of the video focuses on how players can avoid being placed in a compromising situation that could lead to match fixing. It should be noted that gamblers can place wagers on head-to-head matchups, provided by betting outlets, during stroke-play rounds of tournaments – not just in match-play competitions.
Part of the training video included questions players must answer to avoid violating the policy. An example of this was how a player should respond when asked, “Hello, buddy! Well played today. I was following your progress. I noticed your partner pulled out of his approach on 18, looked like his back. Is he okay for tomorrow?”
The correct answer from a list of options was, “I don’t know, sorry. I’m sure he will get it looked at if it’s bothering him.”
You get the idea, but for some players the training created more questions.
How, for example, should a player respond when asked how he’s feeling by a fan?
“The part I don’t understand, let’s say a member of your club comes out and watches you on the range hitting balls, he knows you’re struggling, and he bets against you. Somehow, some way that could come back to you, according to what I saw on that video,” said one player who asked not to be identified.
Exactly what constitutes a violation is still unclear for some who took the training, which was even more concerning considering the penalties for a violation of the policy.
The first violation is a warning and a second infraction will require the player to retake the training program, but a third violation is a fine “up to $500,000” or “the amount illegally received from the betting activity.” A sixth violation is a lifetime ban from the Tour.
Players are advised to be mindful of what they post on social media and to “refrain from talking about odds or betting activity.” The latter could be an issue considering how often players discuss betting on other sports.
Just last week at the Sony Open, Kevin Kisner and Justin Thomas had a “friendly” wager on the College Football Playoff National Championship. Kisner, a Georgia fan, lost the wager and had to wear an Alabama football jersey while playing the 17th hole last Thursday.
“If I'd have got the points, he'd have been wearing [the jersey], and I was lobbying for the points the whole week, and he didn't give them to me,” Kisner said. “So I'm still not sure about this bet.”
It’s unclear to some if Kisner’s remark, which was a joke and didn’t have anything to do with golf, would be considered a violation. From a common sense standpoint, Kisner did nothing wrong, but the uncertainty is an issue.
Much like drug testing, which the Tour introduced in 2008, few, if any, think sport betting is an issue in golf; but also like the anti-doping program, there appears to be the danger of an inadvertent and entirely innocent violation.
The Tour is trying to be proactive and the circuit has a trillion reasons to get out in front of what could become an issue, but if the initial reaction to the training video is any indication they may want to try a second take.
Lexi looks to shine as LPGA season begins next week
Lexi Thompson may be No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, but in so many ways she became the new face of the women’s game last year.
That makes her the headliner in a fairly star-studded season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic next week.
Three of the top four players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are scheduled to tee it up on Paradise Island, including world No. 1 Shanshan Feng and co-Rolex Player of the Year So Yeon Ryu.
From the heartache at year’s start with the controversial loss at the ANA Inspiration, through the angst in the middle of the year with her mother’s cancer diagnosis, to the stunning disappointment at year’s end, Thompson emerged as the story of the year because of all she achieved in spite of those ordeals.
Next week’s event will mark the first time Thompson tees it up in an LPGA tournament since her season ended in stunning fashion last November with a missed 2-foot putt that cost her a chance to win the CME Group Tour Championship and the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and become the world No. 1.
She still walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for the season’s low scoring average.
She also walked away sounding determined to show she will bounce back from that last disappointment the same way she bounced back from her gut-wrenching loss at the year’s first major, the ANA, where a four-shot Sunday penalty cost her a chance to win her second major.
“Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds ... it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said leaving the CME Group Tour Championship. “This won’t either.”
Thompson was named the Golf Writers Association of America’s Player of the Year in a vote of GWAA membership. Ryu and Sung Hyun Park won the tour’s points-based Rolex Player of the Year Award.
With those two victories and six second-place finishes, three of those coming after playoff losses, Thompson was close to fashioning a spectacular year in 2017, to dominating the tour.
The new season opens with Thompson the center of attention again. Consistently one of the tour’s best ball strikers and longest hitters, she enjoyed her best year on tour last season by making dramatic improvements in her wedge play, short game and, most notably, her putting.
She doesn’t have a swing coach. She fashioned a better all-around game on her own, or under the watchful eye of her father, Scott. All the work she put in showed up in her winning the Vare Trophy.
The Pure Silk Bahamas Classic will also feature defending champion Brittany Lincicome, as well as Ariya Jutanugarn, Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Brooke Henderson, I.K. Kim, Danielle Kang and Charley Hull.