It’s been nearly seven months since Karrie Webb hit a ball in competition, a break that has left the Australian legend not only refreshed but also confident that her decision to roll back her playing opportunities was the right one.
She plans to play eight to 10 LPGA Tour events in 2019, kicking off her season at this week’s ISPS Handa Vic Open and moving into next week’s ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open.
“I feel fortunate that my career's been so good to me that I can choose to wind my career down slowly,” said Webb, who last teed it up in August 2018 at the AIG Women’s British Open, where she missed the cut. “A lot of athletes are forced out because either they're going to be cut from the team or their bodies are not allowing them to play their sport anymore or they're a step slower or whatever. You know, I get to choose on my own terms when I'm done. Honestly, to stop cold turkey I think would be a huge life adjustment rather than doing it the way I'm doing it.”
Since joining the LPGA Tour in 1996, Webb has blazed an ever-widening trail for Australian women’s golf. Her 41 victories and more than $20 million in earnings don’t fully tell the story of the inspiration the World Golf Hall of Fame member has brought to the women’s game in her home country. From her work getting golf into the Olympics to her Karrie Webb Scholarship program to her burgeoning work as a golf course architect, she has truly defined the concept of leaving the game better than she found it, always driving ahead for more.
“She really cares about the LPGA and women’s golf and wants to make them better,” said Katherine Kirk, a fellow Aussie who served on the LPGA Board of Directors with Webb in 2014. “She’s known longer than anyone the differences between men’s and women’s golf and she wanted to close that gap. She’s been instrumental in that.”
That hard work is paying dividends this week at 13th Beach Golf Links. In an event that is a leader in sports equality, Webb’s vision for the future of the game sits in front of her.
“All of us here in Australia have known how great this event is since its conception of equal prize money for men and women,” said Webb. “And the way it's done, too, because a lot of people think, ‘Oh, the women will be on one course, the men will be on the other.’ The way it's alternating groups of men and women, I think it's great for the golf fan that comes to watch because they can watch the best of both men and women and sit on one hole and watch that all day.”
PLAYERS ENJOY WEEK’S UNIQUE ATMOSPHERE
It’s not every week that golf fans see men and women warming up next to each other on the range. And they almost never see a group of women tee off, followed immediately by a group of men. That’s all on the schedule at this week’s ISPS Handa Vic Open, and the players are enjoying every second of it.
“The Vic Open is a relevant tournament in the world this week,” said Geoff Ogilvy, the 2006 U.S. Open champion who lives in nearby Melbourne. “People are noticing because of the equal prize money and the LPGA and the guys' thing. That's a big deal.”
“That’s the great thing about golf – you can play anywhere with somebody. We’ve done it with the USGA when we had the back-to-back U.S. Opens,” added 2010 U.S. Women’s Open Paula Creamer. “You can do it. You can host an event that we both are at. The boy/girl/boy/girl tee times, that’s so cool. I’m going to be watching behind me, I’m going to be watching in front of me.
IN HER OWN WORDS – CHRISTINA KIM ON THE ISPS HANDA VIC OPEN
“I’m entering my 17th year on the Tour and obviously every single day still feels like an absolute thrill, anytime you get to say that you play golf for a living and do what you love and love what you do. This just takes it truly to another level. I met Geoff Ogilvy, I met Nicolas Colsaerts, I still haven’t had the stones to go up and say hi to Nick Flanagan, even though I’ve known of him for years and years, been following his career.
It’s such a unique event and you have so many incredible golfers that are out here. It’s a Tour stop, but it means so much more. The fact that you have men and women playing for the same purse, you have some of the best golfers in the world coming out here and being able to play with each other. I had a practice round with Jordan Mullaney. He hits the ball so far. It’s just a different sound. I can go on and on and on and on and on. This might be one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had. No joke, up there in a different sense, like a Solheim Cup.”
FAYE WHEATLEY NAMED AWARD RECIPIENT FOR LPGA’S AXA XL LPGA VOLUNTEER SERVICE AWARD
The AXA XL LPGA Volunteer Service Award is a program launched in 2018 to recognize exemplary volunteers at each LPGA tournament. Faye Wheatley, who has managed the ISPS Handa Vic Open’s private housing program for the last six years, is this week’s award recipient. She has also served as a walking scorer and has caddied for Australian players Nikki Garrett and Dylan Perry. Wheatley even cared for Garrett’s son one year so she could compete without worrying about his welfare.