2005: Webb takes resurgence in stride

Gold Canyon, Ariz.

The swagger is back in the step of Karrie Webb. After a two-year hiatus from the top 5

in earnings, Webb is ready to re-establish herself as a consistent force on the LPGA.

But she’d rather not talk about it just yet.

Problem is, people are noticing how well she’s playing after a victory at the Australian Ladies Masters, a second at the MasterCard Classic and a tie for 26th at last week’s Safeway International. When a player of Webb’s caliber puts up those numbers to begin the year – people talk. Players notice, fans notice, the media notices. And all want to ask why or offer well wishes, something Webb would like to avoid.

“I’m trying not to get my expectations too high,” Webb said. “A lot of my problems have been from trying too hard and not letting it happen on the golf course. It’s difficult because there are a few more people around who are excited to see me play well. I’m excited too, but I’m trying not to get caught up in it.”

A successful Webb can only help the LPGA. At a time when young stars Cristie Kerr, Lorena Ochoa and Grace Park are vying for the No. 2 spot behind Annika Sorenstam, adding Webb to the mix would make the chase more intriguing. If she can duel Sorenstam as she did in the 2000 season – Webb won seven times, including two majors, to finish No. 1 on the money list for the second consecutive year – it would send women’s golf to new heights.

“I played with her two weeks ago (in the final round of the MasterCard Classic), and it seemed like she had the fire back,” Sorenstam said. “Maybe this is her year, who knows?”

Said Mikey Paterson, Webb’s caddie of five years: “Karrie is capable of anything this year. She’s proved in the past how well she can play, and last year she wasn’t that far away. It’s never that far away for her. Once her confidence is up, there is no stopping her.”

Confidence was the missing element for Webb the past two seasons. Add swing changes at the end of 2003 and you have a recipe for inconsistency. Granted, there are plenty of players on tour who wish they had Webb’s inconsistency, as she still managed to finish 11th and ninth in earnings, respectively, the past two years. Playing poorly is relative – she knows her bad is not that­­ bad. An off year for Webb is a career for some.

Although Webb won only once in each of the past two seasons (the only two years she hasn’t won multiple times) she surprisingly enjoyed herself. Last year in particular Webb relished working on swing changes with longtime coach Kelvin Haller. She had developed a habit of backing off the ball when her timing wasn’t precise, which led to a loss of power in crucial situations. Now Webb is using more of her core muscles to keep from moving off the ball at impact.

Webb feels comfortable with the changes but says it’ll be two more years until her new swing feels natural. Unless you have a trained eye, you’d think Webb’s swing is the same one that produced 30 victories (six majors) and more than $10 million in career earnings.

Webb, 30, is determined to get back to where she once was – even if she doesn’t express it. She never has been a goal-oriented player but says she’d like to challenge the top 5 in earnings. That doesn’t mean Webb is not interested in being No. 1 again. She just isn’t going to work any harder than she already does to achieve it.

“Come the end of the year if I have a chance to win Player of the Year, that’s what I’ll shoot for,” Webb said. “It’s hard at the start of the year to say that. You have to make it more step by step. For me, I want to enjoy playing and enjoy the fact that my game is a lot closer to where it was.”

Webb will be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame this fall. She is more appreciative now of how well she played in her heyday. She was so good that she often won without her best, so confident that she knew she was going to find a way to get the ball in the hole even if her game wasn’t quite there. Now, the top 10s that were once a certainty are more difficult to attain, even though Webb feels her mind and mental focus are better.

“When I was playing well, I took everything for granted,” Webb said. “It’s the best thing that could have happened to me. I think I’ll appreciate things more. I’ll never take for granted finishing in the top 10 five weeks in a row.”

If she keeps up her current pace, Webb will be knocking on the door of victory again, maybe as soon as this week’s Kraft Nabisco Championship, a place where she won in 2000 and finished third last year. If that happens, Webb will enjoy her time in the spotlight more than she did five years ago.

During her time at the top, Webb often received unjust criticism that she didn’t have much of a personality. On the contrary, the Australian is intelligent, quick-witted and one of the most personable women on tour.

“It hurt me personally that who I was as a person wasn’t what people were looking for,” Webb said. “I know now there are enough personalities out here that I’m not going to have that (problem) anymore.”

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