Wednesday, March 1, 2000
Big Island hosts
The field for the inauguralBy Paul Arnett
Takefuji Classic includes
Webb, 4 Hall of Famers
KAILUA-KONA -- Karrie Webb completes the list of top-rated golfers to make an appearance in the island chain the first two months of the season.
First, it was Tiger Woods who made his presence felt at the Mercedes Championship on Maui. The world's No. 1 player beat Ernie Els on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff to begin the PGA Tour campaign on a dramatic note.
Next, it was Bruce Fleisher, the best player on the Senior Tour, taking part in the MasterCard Championships on the Big Island. And now, island golf fans will welcome Webb at the inaugural LPGA Takefuji Classic that begins tomorrow on the picturesque Kona Country Club ocean course.
Not only is Webb among the 132 players teeing it up tomorrow in an event that began today with the Pro-Am, but so are LPGA Tour Hall of Fame members Patty Sheehan, Beth Daniel, Pat Bradley and Betsy King.
What: 54-hole tournament.
Where: Kona Country Club (6,257 yards), Kailua-Kona.
When: Today (Pro-Am) and tomorrow through Saturday.
Purse: $800,000 (top prize $125,000).
Who: 132 players entered.
King won the Cup Noodles Hawaiian Ladies Open two weeks ago. It was her first victory since the 1997 Nabisco Dinah Shore and her fourth official event in the island chain as well. King's first LPGA Tour win was on Maui in the 1984 Kemper Open. She and Daniel are the only multiple island winners in the solid field.
Daniel finished first in the 1990 Orix Hawaiian Ladies Open and the 1990 Women's Kemper Open. Daniel and the other Hall of Fame standouts will welcome 19 rookies to the $800,000, 54-hole event.
The top three finishers in last week's Australian Ladies Masters -- Webb, Lorie Kane and Laura Davies -- also will be a part of this star-studded field. So are Sweden's Annika Sorenstram, Grace Park and Sherri Steinhauer.
Japanese golf fans will keep an eye on Akiko Fukushima and her sister, Hiroko. It is the first time the two are competing against each other in a tournament. Akiko Fukushima is considered Japan's premier player.
"I've always enjoyed meeting and playing against the top international players,'' King said. "You see a lot of that when you compete over here. Playing in Hawaii seems to bring the best out in my game. Winning two weeks ago felt good because I've struggled the past couple of years.
"As I've said, this year was going to determine whether I kept playing because I wanted to remain competitive. I didn't want to be one of those golfers who hangs around. You sometimes wonder if you're ever going to win again. Starting early in the year with a win gives me some confidence.''
King is going to need every shot in her bag to win this weekend on the stunning oceanside course that measures 6,257 yards. These days, the 26-year-old Webb rules the LPGA kingdom.
The Australian leads the LPGA money list with $225,000. She tied Sorenstram's record for being the fastest player to earn $200,000 in a single season in three events. Webb already has 18 victories in only five years on tour. She has won three and finished second in the past four official LPGA events dating back to October 1999.
"I think golf is a game where there is always room for improvement,'' Webb said after winning her third consecutive Australian Ladies Masters. Only five other players have won a tournament three years in a row.
"You can never master it, no matter how good you are playing,'' Webb said. "I work hard on my game and I know there are areas that can get better. Of course, when you've just won three times, it's hard to see what needs to improve right away.''
King summed up Webb's impact this way.
"I played with her in the first tournament she played in as an LPGA professional and I think she finished seventh,'' King said. "She was good then and she has only gotten better. Karrie works hard on her game, but she also has a tremendous amount of natural ability. I don't see any reason why she can't continue.''
Two University of Hawaii graduates are also in the field. They are five-time LPGA winner Cindy Flom and 20-year LPGA Tour veteran Lenore Rittenhouse. They will be competing for a top prize of $120,000. The inaugural event will be televised on The Golf Channel and by TV-Tokyo in Japan.