PITTSFORD, N.Y. – A local reporter learned quickly not to question Karrie Webb’s motivation. She may be a veteran, but the 37-year-old is still out here for one reason.
“When Phil Mickelson was 37, do you think people were asking him that?” Webb replied. “Tiger is 36 and no one is asking him that. I still have the same drive as those two guys.”
To be fair, Webb earned enough points to qualify for the Hall of Fame a dozen years ago and met the 10-year membership requirement in 2005. Over the years Webb, a 38-time winner on tour, has admitted to suffering from a “Now what?” mentality after finding so much success so early, but even now Stacy Lewis said no one on tour works harder.
Webb enters the final round of the Wegmans LPGA Championship one back of Eun-Hee Ji after carding a tournament-low 68 June 9 on the soaked grounds of Locust Hill Country Club. With 21 players within five shots of Ji, Webb finds herself in a logjam.
Lewis, the hottest player on tour, trails by two along with a hungry Suzann Pettersen. Kraft Nabisco champion Sun Young Yoo is at 1 under along with an inspired Paula Creamer, who is playing in Rochester for the first time since her grandfather died. “Pops” was a mainstay at this event, living only a couple hours away in Ithaca, N.Y.
As a two-time champion here at Locust Hill, Webb feels the support from fans who, as she said, have sat under the same tree for decades watching her come through.
She’s fairly certain, however, that her name on a leaderboard doesn’t quite have the same effect on her peers that it did 10 years ago.
“I think a lot of younger players don’t quite know all the history of the game and really what she’s done,” said Lewis. “I think it’s a good reminder.”
Lewis was paired with Webb in the first two rounds last week at the ShopRite LPGA Classic and heard her introduced on the first tee as a Hall of Fame member. Since Lewis moved to South Florida, she and Webb have spent time practicing together, even went fishing a couple times. Lewis didn’t need that first tee reminder.
It’s easy to understand though why the question was asked. Webb reached the pinnacle ages ago. She won twice in 2011, but took her last major crown back in 2006. That holed-out shot on the 18th at the Kraft Nabisco Championship is replayed over and over in her mind.
“I think that feeling came to me so often 10 years ago that I took for granted how hard it was to actually put myself in that position to have a chance to win and feel that,” Webb said. “That’s why I work hard.”
Webb joked that she has been known as a “veteran” on the LPGA since age 28. Players age faster out here because, by and large, youth dominates. Lorena Ochoa retired on top before she reached 30.
Many point to Juli Inkster as the standard, but few are able to put together a Hall of Fame career and raise a family. It’s an obvious difference between the men’s and women’s tours.
Of the 73 players who made the cut at the LPGA Championship, only eight players (including Webb) are 35 and older. That’s 11 percent. Five of the eight are mothers.
Webb points to stretching twice a day for 20 minutes as a key reason her body has been able to withstand hour after hour on the range. She described her 17th season on tour thus far as “pretty good consistently, not good or great.” A T-4 in Mobile is her best finish of the year, and she only finished outside the top 25 one time.
Webb’s two victories at Locust Hill came prior to the event taking on major status. No one on the leaderboard has half of Webb’s experience in winning tournament. And yet, no one probably wants it more.
“I probably want it now more than I ever have in my career, just because I don’t feel it as often as I would like,” Webb said. “I’d like to feel it as often as Yani does.
“I wouldn’t mind that at all.”