Somber Slam Karrie Webb's concern over a loved one took the joy out of a historic victory

July 01, 2001

The dark at the bottom of the cup is where the beaten stare.
With their chances blown and dreams deferred, losing golfers
often linger over that last extraction of ball from hole,
looking for answers. That's what made Sunday's conclusion to the
McDonald's LPGA Championship so unusual. It was the winner,
Karrie Webb, who couldn't see much light at the finish. Deaf to
the cheers of a large gallery at the 72nd hole, she pulled her
ball out of the cup, fought back tears and whispered, "That
one's for you, Granddad."

It was the most dissonant tournament finish in memory. Few in
attendance at DuPont Country Club in Wilmington, Del., knew that
earlier in the week, in Australia, Webb's 71-year-old maternal
grandfather, Mick Collinson, had suffered a stroke. Early on
Sunday morning only a handful were aware that he was in critical
condition, causing Webb--who had a three-shot lead going into the
final round and was on the verge of completing the career Grand
Slam of major championships--to consider withdrawing and flying
home to Queensland with her parents.

It was jarring to onlookers, then, when Webb walked off the final
green with a stricken look on her face. They were thinking Grand
Slam; she was thinking Granddad. They were celebrating her
two-shot victory; she was enduring her loss by a stroke. "This is
obviously a tournament I've wanted to win," a choked-up Webb
said, "but right now it doesn't really mean a whole lot to me." A
journalist, failing to catch the vibe, threw out the first
question: "You birdied 2, 3 and 4. Did you get a sense that you
were in that zone?"

We'll answer for Webb: Yes. On Sunday she was in that zone of
instinct, the cocoon of conditioned response that protects the
grieving. Her playing partner and closest pursuer at the time,
Maria Hjorth, birdied the first two holes. Webb shrugged off the
charge and increased her lead over Hjorth to six shots after five
holes. A young American, Laura Diaz, birdied holes 9 through 12
and pulled to within two of Webb by holing a long birdie putt
from the fringe on 17. Webb, at the 16th green, dropped a
15-footer for birdie to blunt the attack. "When Karrie's on,
she's so mentally tough that she rarely makes a mistake," said
LPGA veteran Lorie Kane on Saturday, unaware of Webb's family

There was nothing tough about Webb on Sunday. She wasn't fierce,
and she wasn't defiant. She was numb. "I wanted to win, but I
wasn't overly concerned if I didn't," she said. It was the
comforting repetition of the golf swing, the passing panorama of
holes, that held her together. With a wedge in her hand and a
slight right-to-left breeze to consider, Webb could avoid
thinking about her many afternoons in the little toy shop that
Mick and Joy Collinson ran in Ayr, the Queensland village where
Karrie grew up. With a nasty sidehill 10-footer to read, she
could fight off the memory of her granddad and grandmother taking
her along when they played nine holes on a Sunday morning--she a
mere tyke with a plastic club and plastic ball--and the sweet
recollection of how it felt to ride on Mick's pull cart as he
tugged his bag and giggling granddaughter around the course.
"They were about the only two people in the world who were
patient enough to go out with a four-year-old and play golf on a
Sunday morning," Webb said.

She had to avoid thinking about Mick's mind, wiped clean of
memories--a set of irons with unnumbered soles. A memory:
12-year-old Karrie as an Ayr Water Festival princess, chirping
from the stage, "I'm going to be a professional golfer!"
("Everyone was, like, Great!" her father, Rob, remembered on
Saturday, "but what they really wanted to say was, 'Hell, you
come from this little country town; you're never going to be a
professional golfer.'") Another memory: Karrie with her fishing
pole at the Webbs' beach house, a one-bedroom shack where the
family bunked together on weekends and holidays.

Still more memories: Mick and Joy's visit to the grown-up
Karrie's beautiful house on the Intracoastal Waterway in Boynton
Beach, Fla.... During their stay, Karrie's appearance in a
black-sequined dress at the LPGA's 50th anniversary dinner at the
Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, in January 2000.... They could see
Karrie's joy whenever she took the throttle of Ayrwaves, her
twin-outboard Mako, and skipped across the waves of the Gulf
Stream. An old man's memories--there are more than 14 clubs in
that bag.

"She was always an organized sort of person," her mother, Evelyn,
says of the child Karrie. However, the grown-up Karrie, the
two-time LPGA Player of the Year, hadn't planned on this. She had
asked her parents to fly over from Australia for the LPGA
Championship because she anticipated something special happening.
Her second straight U.S. Open championship, after all, was barely
a month old, and she had won four out of the past seven majors.
Why not, at 26, become the youngest woman to complete the career
slam by winning the lone holdout, the LPGA? "That's what we're
over here for," Rob said on Saturday. "She wanted us to be here,
just in case." Isn't that how the world turns? On contingencies?

So the tournament started on Thursday, and everything seemed
normal. Wendy Ward was the first-round leader, with a six-under
65. (She said the greens were firm.) On Friday, Webb shot 64 with
a tournament-record 29 on the front side and led Ward and 1993
Nabisco champion Helen Alfredsson by three strokes. (The greens
were firm, Webb agreed.) On Saturday, Webb looked a little less
sharp, but a third-round 70 kept her in the lead, three up on
Diaz, twice a runner-up in previous tournaments this season, and
Hjorth, a Swede with a pair of LPGA wins on her resume. (The wind
made club selection difficult, they all agreed, and the greens
were a little soft from overnight rains.)

A ringing phone at about 1 a.m. on Sunday changed everything for
Webb. Karrie debated with her parents into the wee hours. She
wanted to be with them on the 12:30 p.m. flight from Philadelphia
to Los Angeles. Evelyn, Rob and Evelyn's family in Australia
wanted her to stay in Wilmington and win the LPGA, which, they
were 100% certain, would have been her grandfather's wish. "A
part of me wanted to play anyway," Webb said. "The fact that my
family wanted me to do it is what changed my mind."

On Sunday, Webb played golf as she always does under
pressure--efficiently, soberly, without flair. "That's so typical
of Karrie," said Jan Stephenson. "She can turn [her emotions] off
and then be so focused." Said Meg Mallon, "I think she's tired of
defending her demeanor." That prompted the question, Was Webb's
typical demeanor an expression of her true self or a mask? The
answer came on the final hole, when Webb tapped in a one-foot
bogey putt, reached into that dark hole, her chin trembling, and
brought up tears.

The cold, hard numbers told of Webb's accomplishment. Her victory
put her in the select company of those who have won the four
modern majors: Louise Suggs, Mickey Wright, Pat Bradley and the
defending LPGA champion, Juli Inkster. The first-prize check of
$225,000 sent her over the $1 million mark for the season, within
a few thousand of Annika Sorenstam, who's no longer a lock for
player of the year despite a fifth-place finish at Wilmington and
three more tournament wins than Webb. "I didn't see Kathy
Whitworth, I didn't see JoAnne Carner, and I didn't play with
Nancy Lopez in her prime, but Karrie is the best I've ever seen,"
said Inkster. "I can't believe that anyone has ever been better."

Disbelief, in the end, was something that Webb could relate to.
Her parents were somewhere in the air over the American West. Her
grandfather lay in a hospital in Australia, at the edge of
darkness. Karrie was left holding a big, cold, silver trophy.

"Will you go home tomorrow?" someone asked. "Yes," she replied,
already halfway there.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JIM GUND COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JIM GUND Major move Diaz birdied four straight holes in the middle of the final round but still finished second for the third time this year.

"This is obviously a tournament I've wanted to win," a choked-up
Webb said, "but right now it doesn't mean a whole lot to me."

Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)