The driving range at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club was a lonely place that Friday afternoon in July 2003. Karrie Webb had just missed the cut at the U.S. Women's Open for the second consecutive year, after winning the event in 2000 and 2001. Hacking at ball after ball on the range, she struggled with her swing.Then she heard a familiar voice. It came from golf coach Ian Triggs. Webb had known him since she was 13 and growing up in Ayr, Australia. But he was working with fellow Aussie Rachel Hetherington at the time. Triggs offered to help Webb, the '99 and '00 LPGA Player of the Year, whose game was slumping.
Two-and-a-half years later, after implementing swing changes with Triggs and her regular coach, Kelvin Haller, Webb seems ready to again become the world's best female golfer. She took another step in that direction Sunday, winning the Michelob Ultra Open on Kingsmill's River Course by seven strokes -- the largest margin on tour this year.
Webb shot 70 Sunday and finished the 72-hole tournament 14-under par, setting the tournament record by five strokes. She took home $330,000 of the $2.2-million purse. Hee-Won Han and Lorena Ochoa tied for second. Paula Creamer, Pat Hurst and defending champion Cristie Kerr tied for third, at 6-under.
Though Annika Sorenstam, who missed the cut this weekend, is still ranked No. 1 in the world, Webb will surely ascend from seventh. After winning the season's first major, the Kraft Nabisco Championship, Webb finished second, second and 10th in her next events. Then she decimated the field at the Michelob, going wire to wire in an event many consider the fifth major -- mostly because, this year, it included the top 50 money winners, not to mention one of the Tour's richest purses.
At least one left Kingsmill amazed with Webb's performance. "It looks like wherever she's aiming it, it's going," said Hurst, who played with Webb on Sunday.
Webb was going nowhere almost three years ago at Pumpkin Ridge, near Portland, Ore. She burst onto tour in 1996 and won 27 times in her first seven years. "Spoiled," she called it. "I didn't have any goals, other than trying to win every week," she said. "But I didn't have anything, no carrot to chase. So I think that was detrimental to everything that I was doing, because what am I doing it for? I (didn't) have any long-term goals."
She had just three top-three finishes in 2003 after having five in '02, seven in '01 and 11 in '00. The missed cut at Pumpkin Ridge was surely a low point.
Yet she was uncertain about accepting Triggs' guidance. Haller had been her coach since she started playing at age 8. When Webb was 16, Haller was paralyzed from the neck down in an accident at Ayr Golf Club, where Webb learned to golf. Though Haller couldn't travel to America when Webb joined the LPGA at age 21, Webb stuck with him. So she didn't want to ditch him for Triggs.
Haller and Triggs, also an Aussie, decided to work together to fix Webb's flaws. They helped her develop a fade shot, letting her attack holes from left to right. She said she never had a true fade when she was No. 1. Now, she said, it's her "stock shot."
Success came slowly at first: one win and eight top-10s in 2004, no wins and six top-10s last year. "Probably one of the reasons why I became No. 1 in the world and maintained that for a couple of years was because I didn't stop and ask why I was doing that," she said. "I just did it. But because I didn't ask why and how and 'What did I do to do that?' I didn't have the process there to draw upon when I needed to try and get some confidence going."
Said Mike Paterson, her caddie for the past 51/2 years: "She's been threatening (to break through) for a long time."
But even the Monday before the Kraft Nabisco, she battled demons. Triggs traveled to the event, in Rancho Mirage, Calif., to work with her. "It's so close," Webb remembers him saying.
"It's not so close," Webb snapped. "I wish you would stop saying that."
Perhaps her frustration stemmed from how hard she worked in the offseason. She returned to Ayr, a sugarcane-growing town of 10,000 along Australia's northeast coast. She stayed with her parents, Rob and Evelyn, in the house where she grew up, as she always does when she goes home. She practiced at Ayr Golf Club with Kel and Triggsy, as she calls her coaches. "I was determined not to have too much of a break," she said.
After grasping for her carrot, she was, at 31, chasing again.
But she was spot-on, at first, with her assessment at the Kraft Nabisco. She trailed leader Ochoa by seven strokes after the third round. Stop hanging your head, Paterson told her. Whatever, Webb thought. Then she woke up Sunday, stormed back and beat Ochoa in a playoff -- proving Triggs correct.
No comebacks Sunday. Just a convincing runaway, another redemptive Sunday, another breath of confidence and purpose for Webb. And as she strolled through the back nine Sunday, career victory No. 32 in hand, it was Monday back in Ayr, and the sun was rising.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun