Date: February 15, 2018
Author: Mike Clayton

Clayton: Karrie Webb – our greatest ever?

If you ask Peter Thomson or Jack Newton who Australia’s best ever golfer might be they won’t say Peter Thomson or Greg Norman but Karrie Webb, the winner of as many major championships as Thomson and Norman combined.

Thomson dominated the Open Championship in the 1950s, winning three in a row and never being out of the top two in the seven Opens from 1952.

Norman had multiple opportunities to win major championships in the United States but at the end of it all and despite all those brilliant shots and all those chances at Augusta, Inverness and Shinnecock Hills he had his two Opens in Britain.

It’s not fair to say ‘only’ two Opens because to win one makes a career of some significance but we all know Norman wasn’t far off winning majors in double figure numbers.

Webb in contrast to Thomson and Norman won her championships all over the world, proving her game in Britain, on the continent at The Evian Championship and in America where she won the US Open in consecutive years and the ANA twice in the Californian desert. The second of those she won by holing a wedge from 115 yards to tie Lorena Ochoa and then birdied the same hole to win the playoff.

It only took her a couple of months in early 1995 to establish her reputation in America, a tour dominated by the home players in the years before before the emergence of the Asians, Koreans especially, onto the tour.

By April of 1995, only three months into her first season, she had played well enough for Severiano Ballesteros to pay attention. ‘This Karrie Webb, she is very good player, no?".

If Seve noticed what you were doing you had to be playing some decent golf.

To watch her play her opening round at Kooyonga was to see a swing indistinguishable from the one she used at the beginning of her career.

She makes the big turn with her back fully to the hole at the top of the swing and the club always back to parallel with the driver. It has always looks like a swing shaped to have the ball draw in from the right and it’s something of a surprise if it goes the other way.

70 was a good score, one putting her in a comfortable place with the better conditions in the morning to come but it was a round where two or three less was hardly an unreasonable expectation.

A perfect short iron into the 11th crashed into the pin and not much good happens when a ball hits the pin. Earlier in the day Laura Davies had pitched from far below the 6th green straight into the fiberglass and as Webb’s ball did at the 11th, it bounced some way off the green.

In the end she holed from ten feet for an annoying par and from there to the end it was a round made of good drives followed by accurate approaches and missed putts. Only at the short 14th did she miss the green but the sand iron saved her from the left bunker.

Her best years were long ago and the early thrill of playing the tour must have dissipated and even become a grind but like Kel Nagle, who played well on the Australian Tour well into his mid fifties, there is no reason to stop playing when her golf is still of real quality.

By the end of the day the Korean Jin Young Ko was leading with a nine-birdie, two-bogey 65. I watched her ‘lose’ the British Open at Turnberry in 2015 to Inbee Park who ran her down with a crazy finish but from memory it was the first time Ko had played a links course. Tony Lema hadn’t played one either when he won at St Andrews in 1964 but playing well on a quirky links for the first time it’s no easy thing to do.

Ko has been a fine player for some years now and walked onto the LPGA when she won the Hana Bank tournament in Seoul in October.

The dominance of Koreans at the top level of the professional game is truly a phenomenon and the bar is set high. It would be a surprise of one of their top players didn’t win this week and Ko is as likely a winner as any.