U.S. WOMEN'S OPEN
Webb Eager for Next Generation to Follow in Her Footsteps
July 6, 2015 | Lancaster, Pa.
By Stuart Hall
Su Oh tosses aside superfluous specifics such as hole or yardage, because the shot execution is what matters most.
On Sunday, playing in a U.S. Women’s Open practice round at Lancaster Country Club, the 19-year-old Australian watched with wonderment as Karrie Webb put into flight a 5-iron shot that she drew over a tree that stood in her sight line.
“She went straight over it and I was like ‘What was that?’ and she was like 'Oh, it was a 5-iron and I just hit a high draw,’” recalled Oh, a former world No. 1 amateur who currently plays on the Symetra Tour. “I was so amazed by that.”
Webb chuckled in recounting the interchange, saying it was one of a multitude of questions Oh peppered her with during their afternoon round.
Webb, the 40-year-old Hall of Fame symbol of Australian women’s golf, welcomes the opportunity to assist any young female coming up through the Aussie ranks.
“I love seeing the young girls coming up and seeing someone like Su, who is not afraid to ask questions,” Webb said. “I think I was pretty shy as a kid and I don’t know if I ever would have been like that.”
Such grace is not lost on Minjee Lee, another 19-year-old Australian, who won the 2012 U.S. Girls Junior Championship and was the No. 1-ranked amateur in 2014 before turning professional. In May, Lee won the LPGA’s Kingsmill Championship.
Lee once referred to Webb as being an “auntie” on tour. “She just helps me out whenever I get stuck or whenever I have a question. She's pretty good about it,” said Lee, who is making her second U.S. Women’s Open start. Lee was tied for third place after each of the first three rounds last year at Pinehurst before finishing in a tie for 22nd.
In addition to Lee and Oh, Breanna Elliott, a 23-year-old who plays on the Australian LPGA, is part of the Aussie brigade tagging along as Webb offers advice as freely as a bedtime story at this week’s U.S. Women’s Open.
Lee, Oh and Elliott were all recipients of Karrie Webb Scholarships, a program that grew out of a partnership created by Webb and Golf Australia in 2007.
Since 2008, Golf Australia has conducted the Karrie Webb Series, nearly a dozen tournaments that form part of the Australian Women’s Amateur Ranking System. Each year, the top two players in the series are awarded scholarships that include mentoring support from Webb. Other scholarship winners include Stephanie Na and Stacey Keating, both of whom are currently playing on the Ladies European Tour.
Webb says no such resource was available to her when she was growing up in Australia, with her main mentor being her longtime coach, Kelvin Haller, who worked with Webb through 2003. By that time Webb had already amassed 29 of her 41 LPGA wins – most among active Tour players – along with six of her seven majors.
“I’ve always thought I would give something back at some point and I tried earlier in my career, but the fit just wasn’t there with the way the associations in Australia worked,” said Webb, who had a second opportunity once Women’s Golf Australia merged with the Australian Golf Union to form Golf Australia in 2006.
But Webb also wondered for a time what she could offer.
“Before this I didn’t realize I had anything to give,” she said. “But when you’re asked to draw upon your experiences, you realize you do have a lot to teach people.”
As Webb prepares for her 20th consecutive U.S. Women’s Open — her first in 1996 came just weeks after Oh and Lee were born days apart in May — Oh readies for her first and is receptive to any wisdom Webb can impart.
“Well, she has won back-to-back Opens,” said Oh of Webb’s wins in 2000 and 2001. “I ask her about so many things and she doesn’t hold back, she answers in full detail.”
While this is Oh’s first U.S. Women’s Open as a competitor, as part of the Golf Australia program she and Lee were guests of Webb’s at the 2013 Open at Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y. Webb also plays with the scholarship winners on trips back to Australia.
In Webb’s mind, the building and fostering of relationships has made the biggest impact.
“If I had never had this scholarship series and not had the girls over to get to know me, they wouldn’t be approaching me for practice rounds,” she said. “So it’s already a success when they are the ones emailing me.”
And asking questions, lots of them.
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA websites.