BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. — Karrie Webb untied her boat from the dock at Two Georges restaurant and took a short spin for the camera. The radar indicated we had time, but the dark and menacing sky suggested otherwise. Captain Webb pointed her spotless 32-foot Intrepid south down the Intracoastal Waterway toward Delray Beach and tried to outrun the rain.
“I wouldn’t have picked you up in my boat 10 years ago,” said Webb, who since the beginning of her Hall of Fame career has preferred that her clubs tell the story. Good friend Beth Daniel went a step further, saying Webb probably wouldn’t have agreed to it even three years ago.
“She still is very restricted when it comes to the media,” said Daniel, who noted that Webb once came home to find a photographer from her native Australia taking pictures of her house and was understandably upset.
Earlier that day, Webb had sidestepped a photo shoot at her home of 15 years (or even a drive-by in the boat), saying it was under construction. But as Webb’s walls began to come down over a plate of shrimp tacos at Deck 84, she later conceded that her house is always off-limits for interviews, regardless of the outdoor-kitchen renovations.
“I like to have something that’s separate from my public life,” she said.
Webb was preparing to close her 18th year on tour across the state at the CME Group Titleholders Championship in Naples. 2012 had marked the first time in Webb’s career that she hadn’t won a tournament anywhere in the world in a calendar year. But she ended that drought in February by winning the Volvik RACV Ladies Masters in her native Queensland, followed by the ShopRite LPGA Classic in June and the ISPS Handa Ladies
European Masters in late July.
Webb turns 39 on Dec. 21 and, as the years tick by, her magnificent, steadfast career seemingly is among the LPGA’s most underrated. Perhaps, in part, because of the fact that at her core, she’s still a simple girl from Ayr, a farming town of about 9,000 in Queensland, who doesn’t understand why people need to know so much about her.
Webb believes it’s tough for any young star to be naturally open about who she is with the media and be completely comfortable with the attention.
“I also grew up looking up to Greg Norman,” Webb said, “and when he came back to Australia the media crucified him for one thing or another.”
After Webb watched Norman play in the 1986 Queensland Open, she told her parents that she wanted to play professionally. A shy, wide-eyed Webb even stayed at Norman’s Florida estate as a bonus for being the overall girls champion in his junior golf foundation. The experience furthered the dream.
Webb is the winningest active player on the LPGA, with 39 victories. Her seven major championships rank seventh, with Juli Inkster. Webb’s most recent major victory came in 2006 at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, and her boat, Ayr Waves II, was purchased as a reward.
Webb’s classic swing came naturally but was helped along by Kelvin Haller, who began teaching her at age 8. When Webb was only 16, Haller walked into a hospital for treatment, left as a quadriplegic and never walked again. It wasn’t until Webb turned 36 that she realized how young Haller was in 1990.
“I think everyone’s reaction is, when you lose the ability to walk that you’d rather be dead,” Webb said.
But Haller’s determination to continue on and flourish – he still teaches golf to kids on a soccer field in Ayr and has four grandchildren – has inspired Webb for decades. A longtime supporter of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, Webb still works with Haller by video and spent time with him at home in Australia before playing in Japan last month.
Because Haller can’t travel, Ian Triggs has served as Webb’s touring coach for the last 10 years. Triggs even offered to be a silent partner, knowing the special bond Webb has with Haller.
“She grew up in an era where, because of equipment, you didn’t have to be a shotmaker and she was and she is, even today,” Daniel said. “You don’t see many shotmakers in her generation.”
Meg Mallon was paired often with Webb when the Aussie first came to the U.S. and was struck by how hard she swung her arms while walking down the fairway.
“She was so excited to get to the next golf shot,” Mallon said.
Webb, dressed casually in a Miami Dolphins long-sleeved T-shirt and jean shorts as she navigates her boat down the Intracoastal, is as loyal as they come. She has had Dolphins season tickets since 1999 and the same
caddie, Mike “Mikey” Patterson, for 13 years. When Mallon’s sister, Tricia, died in 2009, Webb called constantly.
“She was the kind of friend that you would always hope you’d have,” Mallon said.
Webb’s success on tour came early and fast. She was the rookie of the year in 1996, winning four times to become the first LPGA player to surpass $1 million in a season. With Annika Sorenstam’s breakout season one year earlier, the media pushed for a rivalry.
The players weren’t having it.
“I didn’t want to be a part of the whole rivalry thing because I knew that would create a good guy/bad guy scenario,” Webb said. “I knew how I’d get painted, and I didn’t want to be that.”
How would she have been painted?
“I would’ve been the bad guy,” Webb said. “I didn’t see myself that way, so I wasn’t going to allow that to happen.”
What drove Mallon crazy was that Webb and Sorenstam never seemed to play well at the same majors. They just took turns winning.
Mallon, a late bloomer in comparison, names three players who, in her tenure on tour, stood above all when playing at their best: Laura Davies, Daniel and Webb.
Webb said she and Sorenstam were criticized in their prime for being too shy. When a fellow player said Webb didn’t have the personality that the tour needed, Webb said she was asked about that player’s comments for the next 12 months.
“Annika changed who she was,” Webb said, “and I didn’t feel like I needed to compromise who I was as a person, because I knew who I was.”
Webb thinks she was misunderstood early in her career, chalking it up to the way she delivered sarcasm with a straight face.
“I’ve just learned to deliver that with a smile now, and everyone thinks I’m hilarious,” she said, smiling.
Webb secretly doesn’t mind that many believe her practice sessions are too intense to disrupt. She tells young Aussie players otherwise, but takes advantage of the opportunity to have uninterrupted quality practice.
“Apparently I have quite strong body language,” she said. “But it’s quite helpful, too.”
Webb qualified for the Hall of Fame in 2000 on points but was not eligible until she completed 10 seasons on tour. Looking back, Webb wishes the person she is now could have another go at many of the opportunities that came her way early on.
“I would’ve enjoyed them a lot more than I did then,” she said.
With so many of her contemporaries now retired, Webb finds her circle of friends increasingly young. Alison Walshe, 28, is a frequent practice partner in south Florida and likes to say she has an undefeated record against a Hall of Famer. Never mind that all those wins against Webb came outside of a proper tournament.
“I think she’s completely opposite from how she appears on the range or the golf course,” Walshe said. “Super laid back, so much fun.”
Since 2008, Webb has invited the top two points earners from her Australian amateur series to stay in a house with her during the U.S. Women’s Open. She wishes she had done something like that sooner but realizes that a younger Webb wouldn’t have been as giving of herself and certainly wouldn’t have picked U.S. Women’s Open week.
“Until I started this Karrie Webb Series, I guess I didn’t really know I had a lot to give,” Webb said. “I really enjoy that players feel like they can
ask me for advice and talk to me.”
A hard-working Webb said she will reassess her career after the 2016 Olympics. She isn’t keen on the word retire, but she can see herself slowing down. Not yet 40 but closing in on two decades of professional golf, Webb, an LPGA board member, has embraced her role as a mentor and leader, but ultimately wants her legacy to come from inside the ropes.
“At the end of my career, I want to be respected for how I played the game and what I achieved on the course,” she said.
A lasting legacy, indeed.