LPGA SBS OPEN
Webb back in Hawaii, but in a different place
The former world No. 1 made up much ground in the past year in her quest to return to the top
Karrie Webb had a small reminder during an early practice round for today's $1.1 million SBS Open of just how far she had come in only 12 months.
Last year, still trying to find herself in the golf wilderness, Webb stood on the 10th tee of the Arnold Palmer-designed Turtle Bay course with no idea she was beginning the most fulfilling year of her career.
Funny how this game works. The former No. 1 player in the world, who once gave Annika Sorenstam the blues at the start of the century, fell out of the golf cart during a 22-month winless stretch that ended with her victory at the Kraft-Nabisco Championship last April.
She holed a 116-yard shot from the 18th fairway for eagle and eventually beat Lorena Ochoa on the first hole of sudden death to secure her seventh major championship on the LPGA Tour.
Webb went on to win four more times in 2006, and just missed capturing her eighth major title at the LPGA Championship, where she lost to Se Ri Pak in a playoff. But as Webb approached the 10th during Tuesday's practice round, she was reminded how fragile her role in golf can be.
"I was still wondering why I was working so hard and not getting anything out of it this time last year," Webb said. "I was just speaking to Rosie Jones yesterday about it. I just played a nine-hole practice round yesterday afternoon and I finished at the ninth hole and was looking down the 10th fairway.
"The 10th was my first hole of the tournament last year. I remember standing on the tee feeling really nervous, but not like a good nervous, like a nervous of what am I going to get today. You know, this is the first round of the year, I want to
make it a good one. Just a lot of doubt and pressure that I was putting on myself."
Her unsure approach took its toll, as she began 2006 with a 2-over 74 en route to a tie for 26th at the SBS Open and a tie for 49th a week later at the Fields Open at Ko Olina Resort. It wasn't the kind of start the Aussie was looking for. Webb was ranked No. 13 in the world after leaving the island chain and in no danger of catching Sorenstam anytime soon.
But as the 2007 season begins today, Sorenstam's whopping 15-point lead over Webb in 2006 has been reduced to 2.8. Webb has already won twice in her home country of Australia this year, capturing the ANZ Ladies Masters on Sunday and the Australian Open two weeks before. After some time off, she wasn't sure if her game would still be with her, but those two wins should calm any doubts that 2006 was a final hurrah for the 32-year-old golfer.
"It was probably the most rewarding year of my career, I think," Webb said, "one I appreciated the most of the 11 years I've played on the LPGA Tour. To have gotten off to the start I have (this year) is very exciting. To win twice was a little bit unexpected, but I'll take it. I'm very happy about it.
"Ultimately, I'd like to keep trying to get closer to being the best player again in the world. Obviously, I can't control what other players do, especially Annika and Lorena (Ochoa), who have been playing exceptionally well as well. I just want to try to become a better player and continue working hard."
The Hall of Famer knew how good she could be based on the years she was considered the game's best. In 1999, she won six times and managed 22 top-10 finishes, reminiscent of the 20 top 10s Ochoa achieved last season. Webb won her first major that year.
In 2000, Webb won two more majors and seven tournaments overall, including beating Sorenstam in a playoff at the Takefuji Classic played on the Big Island. But it was after that event that Sorenstam said she was recommitted to her game, and that Webb better put her best spikes forward if she wanted to hold the No. 1 ranking.
Webb's descent was a slow one, but she won only seven tournaments over the next five years, including none in 2005, before ending the nearly two-year drought with the unexpected win at the Kraft-Nabisco. She had managed a tie for 24th at the Safeway International the week before, but over the next several months, the fine line between playing poorly and playing well was crossed.
The lesson was complete.
"I know what it felt like to feel like that," Webb explained of her doubts and nerves at the beginning of 2006. "And how that I'm a long way away from that now. And hopefully will stay a long way away from it. But I know if I ever do feel that way, I have a process. If I do lapse into playing poorly again, I have a process to go through to get myself back again. That's what I really learned the last two years, I guess, and understanding my game."