Five are inducted into Golf Hall of Fame
Karrie Webb's grand prize for winning a junior event as a teenager was getting to spend a week with Australian icon Greg Norman. On Monday night, she joined him in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Webb, who captured the career Grand Slam quicker than any other player and is the only woman to win all five of the LPGA Tour majors, became the youngest member of the Hall of Fame when she was inducted with four others.
"It's hard to believe I'm here tonight," the 30-year-old Aussie said. "I still feel like a little girl with big dreams from a small town in Ayr."
In a ceremony that highlighted women, she was joined in the Hall of Fame by Ayako Okamoto of Japan. Inducted posthumously were Willie Park Sr., the first British Open champion; writer Bernard Darwin; and golf course architect Alister MacKenzie, whose designs include Augusta National, Cypress Point and Royal Melbourne.
Okamoto was overwhelmed to take her place in the Hall of Fame, comparing herself with the tortoise from Aesop's Fables, a slow journey in which she was willing to leave the comfort of Japan to take on the best in the world. Okamoto won 17 times on the LPGA Tour, and won the money title and player of the year in 1987.
She was humbled upon seeing the names of the others enshrined.
"They practically made the history of golf in this world," she said. "And to be a part of it is such an honor."
The induction brings membership in the Hall of Fame to 109. Vijay Singh was elected on the PGA Tour ballot, but deferred his induction.
For Webb, it couldn't get here soon enough.
Webb took the LPGA Tour by such force that needed only five years to reach the required 27 points -- one points for a victory and major award, two points for majors -- then had to put in her 10 years on tour to be eligible.
"It's something I never dreamed I would achieve," she said.
She was the most dominant newcomer to the LPGA Tour since Nancy Lopez, winning twice, finishing in the top 10 in her first six tournaments and becoming the first woman to break the $1 million mark in 1996.
But she really made her mark in the majors.
Webb won her first one in 1999 at the du Maurier Classic outside Calgary with four birdies on the last five holes. The rest of her majors came easily. She won by 10 shots at the 2000 Kraft Nabisco, then won the U.S. Women's Open by five shots at the Merit Club.
It took her only seven majors to capture the Grand Slam, although the final piece was the most difficult.
She had a three-shot lead going into the final round of the '01 LPGA Championship, but learned that morning her grandfather, Mick Collinson, had suffered a stroke in Australia and was dying. Webb wanted to withdraw, but her parents persuaded her to play, and she fought through tears to win by three.
Her grandfather died a few hours before she made it home.
Webb, fighting back tears during her induction, told of Sunday mornings at Ayr Golf Club as a 4-year-old with plastic clubs, able to only play one hole before her grandfather put her on his golf bag and toted her the rest of the way on his pull cart. Her grandparents bought her real clubs on her eighth birthday.
"It seems like a big jump from that memory to be standing before you tonight," she said.
Norman was a huge influence, too. Webb watched the Shark win the '86 Queensland Open, then came home and told her parents she wanted to be a professional golfer.
No other Aussie won more majors.
Webb won the U.S. Women's Open twice -- by four and eight shots. And when she captured the Women's British Open at Turnberry in 2002, she became the only woman to win the "Super Slam" -- all five LPGA majors available, with the British Open having replaced the du Maurier in 2001.
"When I look at that time in my career, I couldn't do anything wrong," she said. "Even if I didn't feel great about my game, I somehow found a way to get it in the hole. Every major I entered, I knew I had a very, very good chance of winning on Sunday."
Even under the old LPGA standard for the Hall of Fame -- 30 wins and two majors, 35 wins and one major or 40 wins and no majors -- Webb would have qualified at age 29.
Her only regret was that Kelvin Haller, her longtime coach in Ayr, could not be at the World Golf Village. Haller was paralyzed in an accident when Webb was 16, although their bond was so strong that they worked on her swing through simple conversation or by video.
Webb never embraced stardom, and her wraparound shades made her an enigma to some early in her career. But behind those glasses were high expectations and emotions that she bared on a warm night in northern Florida.
"I've never wanted to draw attention to myself," she said. "But my golf game has done that for me."
Attention followed Okamoto, and it was a burden.
The Japanese women's tour was thriving, and she was under pressure to play her home tour to appease sponsors. But she knew the stiffest challenge was in the United States, and she spent 10 years on the LPGA Tour, impressing her peers with her personality and her game.
"She was and is a symbol of pride for her country," said Beth Daniel, who introduced her.
November 15, 2005
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