Karrie Webb on familiar ground
We're in the midst of the Winter Olympics. But the Summer Games of 2016 are never all that far from Karrie Webb's thoughts.
The LPGA Hall of Famer hopes to compete at the Rio Games in two years, when golf will be reintroduced as an Olympic sport. This week, though, Webb is home Down Under competing in the ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open in Victoria.
It's the second official LPGA event this season and the first of three tournaments in the mini-Asian swing near the start of the tour's calendar. In successive weeks after this, the LPGA goes to Thailand and Singapore.
The first U.S.-based tournament isn't until March 20-23 in Phoenix. So these next three weeks are important in terms of some players getting off to strong starts while others are still working off some rust.
In Webb's case, this week hopefully will make her forget all about last week. At the Australian Ladies Masters, she signed an incorrect scorecard after the second round and was disqualified.
Webb actually brought the mistake to the attention of tournament officials when she realized it. She later acknowledged that she thought she had missed the cut and was just careless about checking her card. As it turned out, Webb would have made the cut.
"I was quite upset with myself and disappointed," said Webb, who is from Ayr, Australia. "I had a lot of family [there] and feel like I let them down a bit. But there's always a silver lining: I got to spend a lot more time with my family. So it was good to be able to do that, but I would have also liked to have played a little bit."
Alas, the eight-time champion of the event instead spent the weekend practicing and visiting.
The tournament ended up getting a lot of publicity globally anyway: Cheyenne Woods, niece of Tiger, won it for her first significant professional title. The Australian Ladies Masters is not an LPGA tournament, but it is an official event for the Australian and European tours.
Cheyenne Woods' name is one of those that, for obvious reasons, moves the needle" appreciatively in women's golf. But if Woods were to win this week Down Under -- she's not an LPGA member right now, but she got a sponsor's exemption to play this event -- that would be a lot bigger story.
The Australian Open field features most of the best women's players in the world. However, it won't have No. 1-ranked Inbee Park, even though she has spent a lot of time recently practicing in Australia.
Park decided to go there rather than do her usual preseason work in California. Her caddie, Brad Beecher, is Australian, and Park wanted a change of scenery. She did not play in the season-opening LPGA tournament in the Bahamas last month, either.
Park will start her LPGA season at the Honda LPGA Thailand, which begins Feb. 20. The reason she skipped the Australian Open this week is that she plans to play in a new event in China that is sponsored by the Chinese and European tours. That tournament is right after the LPGA event in Singapore, and Park did not want to play four consecutive events -- in four countries, no less.
The No. 2 and 3 players in the world, Suzann Pettersen and Stacy Lewis, will be competing this week. So will teen sensation Lydia Ko and the winner of the Bahamas event: Jessica Korda.
Lewis, who finished runner-up to Korda in the Bahamas on Jan. 26, sounds as if she's been champing at the bit to get back into competition.
"This whole offseason, I've just wanted to play because my game's in such a good place," Lewis said. "[Then, after the Bahamas,] we had two weeks off, which was nice to kind of evaluate and rework on some things a little bit. But you know, I'm ready to go."
Meanwhile, Webb, who turned 39 in December, has shown no sign of slowing down. She still enjoys playing and has the carrot of the Rio Olympics to further inspire her.
"It's a big deal for me," Webb said. "I've always been a sports nut and loved the Olympics. It's not something that I ever thought that I'd be a part of, and to have the opportunity is really exciting in itself.
"Even though it's 2½ years away and you can't really think about it day to day at the moment, I think it's in the back of everyone's mind."