By Travis Puterbaugh, Curator
“When she’s on, she’s unbeatable.” – Meg Mallon
By the summer of 2000, Australian pro Karrie Webb had long-since carved out her place on the LPGA Tour among the sport’s elite. A winner of 20 tournaments and two Major Championships since her professional debut just five years earlier, she essentially ran neck-and-neck with Annika Sorenstam as the dominant up-and-coming figures in golf.
Each won their first professional event just a month apart in 1995. Each owned two Major Championships. Each earned their 20th victories on the LPGA Tour in 2000. Each at different times earned the moniker, “The Tiger Woods of Women’s Golf.”
Along with veterans Laura Davies and Juli Inkster and rising star Se Ri Pak of South Korea, these five golfers combined to win half of the Major Championships contested from 1995-2000. With such fierce competition throughout the ranks of the game, Webb’s ascent – marked by accomplishments such as Rookie of the Year in 1996, the Vare Trophy in 1997 and 1999, leading the LPGA’s money list in 1996 and 1999, and Player of the Year in 1999 – made her even more dangerous as she entered the prime of her career.
“Winning tournaments is what I’m here for,” Webb said. “That’s my motivation. The media sometimes don’t know how hard it is to peak at the right time.”
Up next on her career hit-list: a U.S. Women’s Open title.
With Major Championship wins at the du Maurier Classic and Nabisco Championship officially on the books, Webb set her sights on peaking at the Merit Club in Libertyville, Illinois, a suburb of nearby Chicago. The course – which opened in 1992 and would be the longest course in the tournament’s history at 6,540 yards – would prove to be no pushover, yielding no score lower than 68 the entire week.
Of the three golfers who reached 68, two of them were future members of the World Golf Hall of Fame: Webb and Meg Mallon. Webb spent the first few days jockeying for position at the top of the leaderboard with Mallon, who after two rounds, led the tournament she had previously won in 1991.
Only a stroke separated the two as they headed into the weekend, where Webb finally made her move. Webb birdied five of the first 10 holes to reach 8-under for the tournament. Although Mallon faltered only slightly on Saturday with a 1-over par 73, Webb’s 4-under par 68 allowed her to grab control of the tournament and take a four-stroke lead over Mallon, with the rest of the field a distant seven strokes behind.
It is said that the measure of greatness in a golfer is not just winning when you have your A-game, but when you can win with your B or C games as well. On Sunday, Webb did not necessarily have her A-game, coming out of the gate 1-over through six holes.
“I was nervous when I was getting ready this morning,” Webb said following the tournament. “In fact, I was nervous all day.”
Mallon, in the meantime, played steady, even-par golf to keep within striking distance of Webb. At the par-3 7th hole, Webb found water on her tee shot and ended up with a double-bogey. With another par, Mallon found herself suddenly just one shot behind, and then grabbed a share of the lead with a 30-foot birdie putt on the ninth hole.
Yet just as quickly as the door had been left open, it swung definitively shut. From the 8th hole on, Webb calmed her nerves and played solid 2-under golf (nine pars, two birdies). Mallon cooled off and went in the opposite direction, posting four three-putts to take herself out of contention. She would finish 2-over 74 after her strong start and T2 with future U.S. Women’s Open champion Cristie Kerr.
“I felt like I made the turn, and my putter didn’t come with me,” Mallon said.
Webb closed out the tournament in style with a birdie finish on the 18th hole, finishing with a 1-over 73. It was her worst round of the week, yet it hardly mattered as she comfortably won the tournament by five strokes.
On the same day that Tiger Woods completed the Career Grand Slam with an eight-stroke victory at The Open Championship, Webb reached a significant milestone of her own. With the victory, Webb reached the 27 points needed to qualify for entry into the LPGA Tour Hall of Fame. She would meet the final requirement after completing 10 years on the Tour at the conclusion of the 2005 season.
“I have achieved my ultimate career goal,” Webb said after the tournament. “Anything from here is a bonus I guess.”
Other such bonuses would include 20 additional tournament victories, including four Major Championships, and the 2000 LPGA Player of the Year award, a year in which she won a career-best seven tournaments. Webb also earned the distinction at age 30 of becoming the youngest ever inductee into the World Golf Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2005, a mark she held until Se Ri Pak edged her out just two years later.