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.