It was only a year ago that most of the talk coming out of womens golf concerned the promising crop of under-20s players ' Paula Creamer, Morgan Pressel, Natalie Gulbis, Michelle Wie. Those who had dominated the headlines two or three years ago and had already achieved lofty Hall of Fame status ' Karrie Webb, Se Ri Pak, Juli Inkster ' were overlooked.
Webb and Pak ' and to a lesser degree Inkster ' had come upon difficult times. Consistent winners before, they had suddenly lost their touch, trying futilely to regain their lost magic.
Lo and behold, look what happened! Creamer, Pressel, Gulbis and Wie all had decent years - but Webb, Pak and Inkster had excellent years. The young ones continued to learn how to win without actually winning. The Hall of Famers DID win. Annika Sorenstam, of course, was successful for the 12th straight year. But the other three, who had troubles breaking through recently, all were winners, and Webb and Pak even were able to do it in major championships.
It started with Webb, who clicked in the first major, the Kraft Nabisco Championship. She hadnt done much in her first three tournaments, and she faded in the third round of the Kraft Nabisco with a 76. But in the final round, it all came flooding back.
Wie and Lorena Ochoa led most of the day, but on the 72nd hole, Webb caused a sudden uproar by holing out from the fairway, 116 yards away, for an eagle. After shooting 65 for the round, she birdied the same hole in a playoff to beat Ochoa.
Webb was back. She would finish in the top-10 12 more times with four more wins and take home over $2 million in earnings. She almost won another major, losing a playoff at the McDonalds LPGA Championship to Pak. She says that she had to go through a serious mind change to right the ship.
It's hard for me to say that I took things for granted, but I think I did, said the 31-year-old Australian. But at the time I didn't think I was really taking it for granted. I knew that I didn't really, really enjoy winning and what comes with that.
I don't know if it was because I was uncomfortable with sitting in front of you guys (media) all the time and being asked questions, if that led to the reason why I didn't feel that comfortable. That's why I was probably trying so hard - I wanted to feel this again and enjoy it and really appreciate it.
Webb has been blessed with a natural swing since childhood. The swing itself wasnt the problem.
My putting really in the last 18 months has not been what it was when I was playing my best golf, she said. With good putting there is a lot of momentum there. Even if you hit a poor shot, you can get it up and down. Or even if you don't quite hit the shot you're wanting, you have a 20-footer, and you make the 20-footer.
Like Webb, there was nothing to indicate that Pak was going to rebound, not in the first half of the season. But then came the playoff win over Webb in the McDonalds LPGA Championship. And she followed that with a third at the U.S. Open
Pak has already qualified for the Hall of Fame with enough victories but must wait for induction until she puts in 10 years next season. But the South Korean native carried the banner alone for her countrymen and women early in her career, and it was admittedly just a little too much.
'I felt burned out in my game, she admitted. I just didnt really enjoy it.
I said, I don't know why I keep going to the golf course, it's all stressful, I don't even have fun out there. And that makes me a lot upset on the golf course.
Injuries to her neck, shoulder, lower back and finger further complicated the situation, reducing her participation to just 12 tournaments in 2005. But when she regained her health this year, she began playing superbly again.
I just I'm a very lucky person, Pak said. The way I am loving this, so much love with my game and I'm still playing golf, I'm very lucky. I really am (as) happy (a) person as I ever (have) been and (am) having fun on the golf course.'
Pak actually was thinking about winning a major as Webb was busy winning the Kraft Nabisco. The two embraced afterwards, with Pak promising to win the next one. And that she did, winning the McDonalds ' the next major.
I saw Karrie won (the) first major for the year, recalled Se Ri, and then I just, it seems like I'm winning. I feel so great to see her winning again and it's great to see her game is back. And then after that, you know what? My game's going to be back. I knew that sooner or later it's going to be me again.
And then, theres Inkster, who has had one of the most durable careers ever. Shes now 46, married with two teen-aged daughters, and still shes skilled enough to net a win and 11 top-10s this year.
Inkster says that some 30 years of repetitive mechanics had caused her swing to get slightly out of kilter, despite the fact that over the years she had been skilled enough to win seven majors and 30 victories.
Concerned, she took all December off last year to work with her swing coach, Mike McGetrick. When the 2006 season started, the swing was in playing shape again.
Believe me, it's still not perfect, said Inkster, but my misses are better. My good shots are better, too. I just feel like now that when I get into the hunt and I get in the lead, I have a good chance of winning because I can count on my swing to repeat.
And, said Inkster, as long as she has that feeling, she will continue playing.
That's all I play for - to win and compete and be in the top, she said. I don't play for the money, I just play because I love the game of golf and I love working on my game. I love beating the younger players. I just like to see where I'm at with my game and just to let them know I'm still around.
I might not win every week, and I probably won't win every week, but just to let them know that it's not just the younger players, that I can still play and I still have the desire to play.'