Karrie Webb smelling the roses
Back in the late 1990s, when Karrie Webb was in the ascension of what would become a Hall of Fame golf career, she spent a very rainy day in Kansas City, Mo., where I live and work.
Webb, Annika Sorenstam and Ernie Els were the guest players in K.C. legend Tom Watson's then-annual fundraiser for the local children's hospital. For nearly three decades, Watson brought in some of the best players and biggest names in the sport. On this particular day, he had two LPGA players who would define the women's tour for many years.
Watson had that kind of pull in the golf world, but even he couldn't do anything about the weather. It poured most of the day, until late in the afternoon when there was a small break and the players were finally able to splash their way around the course with the hearty spectators who stuck around.
The next day? An absolutely beautiful, temperate, blue-sky, early summer gem. Timing, alas, can be everything.
All these years later, I still remember that in regard to Webb. On Sunday, her timing was perfect: She got her 40th career LPGA victory in her home country at the Women's Australian Open, delighting fans there. It came a week after she had been chagrined to have signed an incorrect scorecard, forcing disqualification, at the Australian Ladies Masters.
What were the odds that she would erase that embarrassing mistake with a milestone victory? Especially considering Webb is 39 now and, while still talented and ranked No. 7 in the world, not expected to be in the hunt every tournament the way she was while at her peak.
So, yes, in this case Webb's timing was perfect. But for a lot of her career, the timing has seemed a little off, through no fault of her own. Somehow she's always seemed overshadowed.
Admittedly, everyone and everything in golf has been overshadowed for nearly two decades by Tiger Woods. But in Webb's case, that's encompassed essentially her whole career. Her rookie LPGA season in 1996, she topped the $1 million mark in prize money, which hadn't been done before by a female player. But Woods, who is a year younger than Webb, was just about to explode on the pro golf scene and become one of the biggest stories in the entire sports landscape.
And even on her own tour, Webb was eclipsed by Sorenstam, who had a five-year stretch (2001-2005) in which she won 43 LPGA events and also played in the PGA's Tour's Colonial tournament. Sorenstam became a one-word brand name -- "Annika" -- who was bigger, if you will, than the LPGA Tour itself.
It's not exactly accurate to say Webb became somewhat of a second banana. But it is fair to say that her achievements were judged against those of Sorenstam, who retired after the 2008 season with 72 LPGA titles, third-best all time.
Webb has never seemed bothered by this, nor does she express much regret about anything in her career.
At times, though, she has talked about wishing she had the same appreciation for winning that she has now. That she had enjoyed it more, had stopped to smell the roses when she was surrounded by them. But that's a pretty common lament from a lot of successful people.
Webb also has said she wished she could have embraced the No. 1 ranking and the attention it brings, rather than seeing it as a burden. Sorenstam did that; she got to the point where she wanted the target on her back, and she adjusted to the increased media responsibilities that came with it. Sorenstam's natural personality was very spotlight-averse, but she toiled hard to change that.
Webb has admitted she just couldn't -- and didn't -- work the same way to become more comfortable being in the limelight. It's just not her. Intelligent and perceptive, Webb always was a great interview when she had to do it. She just didn't necessarily want to do it.
I've always liked Webb a lot, even though she didn't really like the media. Or, to be more accurate, she didn't like the attention. But she would toss out little nuggets of her personality -- her sense of compassion, her loyalty and affection in regard to family and friends, her dry sense of humor -- that always made it clear that there was much more to Karrie Webb than most of us reporters would ever see.
But what we have seen -- now 40 LPGA victories, with no sign that she is thinking of retiring any time soon -- has been fun to witness. She's one of the most successful female pro athletes ever, with the statistics to prove it. And the perspective of time may even enhance that view of her.