Webb needs big week to avoid ironic Olympic fate

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SAN MARTIN, Calif. – Karrie Webb’s Olympic dream hangs in the balance this week at the U.S. Women’s Open, but even if she falls short there’s a strangely rich consolation prize.

Webb has devoted herself to giving back to golf in her native Australia, and that’s where this story’s peculiar turn is more kind than cruel.

When the Olympic women’s golf rankings began two years ago, Webb was the top Australian. The Hall of Famer seemed a lock to make it to Rio de Janeiro, a dream she said was fueling her with new ambition as she played into her 40s.

Today, Webb has dropped to third in the Australian Women’s Golf Rankings, outside the qualifying standard to make it to Rio. She has been passed by Minjee Lee and Su Oh, both of whom owe much to Webb’s mentoring.

Back in 2013, Lee and Oh won the Karrie Webb Scholarship, a program Webb started to inspire and nurture young amateur women golfers in her homeland. As scholarship winners, Lee and Oh got to spend a week with Webb at the U.S. Women’s Open at Sebonack, with Webb funding the trip and mentoring them.

At No. 13 in this week’s Rolex Women’s World Rankings, Lee is a lock to win one of the two Australian Olympic spots. At No. 39, Oh is battling Webb for that final spot, though battle isn’t the right word. Webb played a practice round with Oh on Tuesday. At No. 59 in the world, Webb needs a strong top-10 finish to have a chance to surpass Oh and take that second Olympic berth, but she’s still mentoring Oh, an LPGA rookie.

“That’s the thing,” Webb said. “The reason behind the scholarship series is to have more girls out here, doing well. And so, since the start of this whole program, I’ve been cheering for that. I’m not cheering against Su at all. I can’t let myself do that.”

Qualifying for Rio ends with Sunday’s conclusion of the U.S. Women’s Open, and Webb will give it her best, last shot to make the Australian Olympic team.

“I’d be lying if I said I haven’t been thinking about it,” Webb said. “A couple years ago, everyone thought it was guaranteed. I knew Minjee and Su were coming through. So, it doesn’t surprise me I’m on the outside looking in. It just surprises me that I haven’t played better.”

Webb said she hasn’t calculated how high she needs to finish this week to have a chance to pass Oh and make the team.

“I want to win,” Webb said. “I don’t want to play for fourth just because that will get me in. I can’t control what Su does, and she’s been playing well, and so I would expect her to play well.

“I’m disappointed that it’s come down to one tournament, but, really, I just want to play well this week, to enjoy the fruits of the hard work I’ve done. If I play well, and it’s not enough, then it wasn’t meant to be.”