PINEHURST, N.C. – When Karrie Webb made her U.S. Women’s Open debut at Pine Needles in 1996, the LPGA rookie immediately fell in love with the place.
“For me, Pine Needles was U.S. Open golf,” Webb said.
The Aussie won the 2000 USWO at the Merit Club in Gurnee, Ill., and returned to Pine Needles in ’01 and successfully defended her title. The women returned to Peggy Kirk Bell’s sanctuary once more in 2007, making this the fourth time in Webb’s 19-year Women’s Open career that she will tee it up in the historically rich Pinehurst area.
Only this time the Donald Ross track is storied Pinehurst No. 2, and the 39-year-old Hall of Famer must battle 11-year-old Lucy Li for the spotlight.
Webb comes into this week a touch under the radar despite her history with the area and two victories in 2014. With 41 LPGA titles, Webb is the winningest active player on tour. She has seven major titles to her credit, the last coming at the 2006 Kraft Nabisco Championship.
Never one to rest on her laurels, Webb recently made a surprising change in instructors, leaving Ian Triggs after more than a decade together to get a fresh look from Mike McGetrick, whose longtime students include Juli Inkster and Meg Mallon.
“I was losing a lot of distance with my irons and off the tee,” Webb said, adding she is “just trying to get a bit more power back into my golf swing.”
Webb said her two victories this season really boiled down to good game management and short game. Five weeks ago she began working with McGetrick and already has gotten back the distance lost with her irons (full club) and is getting there with her driver.
“I didn’t know from one day to the next how far I was going to hit it,” Webb said of her previous struggles. The changes with McGetrick weren’t drastic, Webb said, because she didn’t feel like she’d be “out here long enough to rebuild a golf swing.”
One thing that hasn’t changed in 14 years is the man who’s giving her the numbers, Mike “Mikey” Patterson.
The first time Webb won with Patterson on the bag was at Pine Needles in 2001.
“His dad was still on his back about being a caddie,” Webb said, “and so I wrote him out his $50,000 check to take home and show his dad.”
With Webb as boss, there was no need to find another day job.
Unlike many big names, Webb chose to stay away from Pinehurst No. 2 on Sunday as the men wrapped up play in the U.S. Open. Like the rest of the world, she noticed the success Martin Kaymer found using putter from off the greens but said after trying it that she found it to be too inconsistent.
“There’s a few areas where I might putt if I get a dodgy lie,” she said. But mostly she’ll be using her 52-degree wedge. She’s leaning toward softer shots rather than “skiddy” ones because she finds the latter more difficult to control with the speed of the greens.
USGA officials said the greens will run in the mid-to-upper 12s on the Stimpmeter, the same as the men’s event. Most of the hole locations will be within one to two paces of where the men played.
Webb said that as a whole, course conditions were “pretty good.” But she noted that the USGA covered many of the worn areas with black mesh.
“We don’t really know how bad those areas really are because you’d have to lift the whole thing up,” Webb said. “I lifted up a couple and there’s quite a few divots there, and some burnout areas where they’ve lost all the grass.”
On Tuesday night the USGA hosted a dinner for past champions of the U.S. Women’s Open, and Webb said 34 winners, all the way back to 1962 winner Murle Lindstrom Breer, were in attendance. She brought two Aussie amateurs along – Minjee Lee, the world’s top amateur, and Jayde Panos, who played for Oklahoma State – for what turned out to be an oral history lesson. Each champion, starting with Inbee Park and working backwards, said a few words about their victory.
“It’s a history lesson in women’s golf for them that not a lot of girls get,” Webb said.
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. Panos, who isn’t playing in the tournament, has walked the practice rounds alongside Webb. Lee, 18, is making her Women’s Open debut as a competitor.
Inkster, who claims this will be her final U.S. Women’s Open, likes Webb’s chances this week.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a first-timer, for some reason,” Inkster said. “I think it’s going to be someone that’s won before.”
Or perhaps someone who has won it twice.