Webb Highlights Hall of Fame Class


World Golf Hall of Fame ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -- Karrie Webb swatted the golf ball with plastic clubs, a ritual she shared every Sunday morning with her grandparents in the small town of Ayr along the Australian coast. She recalled her euphoria when they bought her real golf clubs for her eighth birthday.
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.