The good news for Karrie Webb is that her name doesn’t start with a number.
Beth Daniel remembers what that was like. It started about the time she won the Women’s Canadian Open to become the oldest winner in LPGA Tour history, and thereafter she was referred to as “46-year-old Beth Daniel.” The number kept going up until 50-year-old Beth Daniel retired in 2007.
“My age became part of my name,” she said Monday, laughing about it now.
Webb is only 39.
She is one year older than Tiger Woods, four years younger than Phil Mickelson. Unlike those two superstars from the PGA Tour, Webb is healthy, winning and leading her tour’s money list going into the first major of the year this week at the Kraft Nabisco Championship.
In February, Webb won for the 40th time in her LPGA career at the Women’s Australian Open. Two weeks ago, she rallied from a six-shot deficit in Arizona to win the Founders Cup. Webb might already have three wins this year if not for closing with a 74 in Singapore to miss a playoff by one shot.
Still, this already is the 10th multiple-win season of her career, and the LPGA is only six tournaments into the 2014 season.
Webb is not one for hyperbole, so she is not about to say this is as good as she has ever played. Remember, this is a player who completed the career Grand Slam quicker than anyone, male or female, by winning all four majors in a span of seven starts.
“I’ve played a lot of good golf in my career,” she said Monday morning from the California desert. “I can’t say what I’m doing now is better than another time. I think I understand my game more than I ever have. I understand on any given day what I’ve got for that day. And I think that allows me to understand how to score. I didn’t always have that ability.”
What she has is longevity on a tour that is getting increasingly younger.
Webb has won 41 times over 19 years, dating to her victory in the 1995 Women’s British Open when she was a 20-year-old out of Australia. Only five other women in LPGA history have stretched out their wins over a longer period of time.
That short list starts with Daniel, who won her first LPGA event in 1979 and her 33rd and final tournament in 2003. Kathy Whitworth (88 wins) and Juli Inkster (31 wins) went 23 years between their first and last wins. Inkster is still playing at age 53, though her last win was in 2006.
“It’s actually one of the things I’m most proud of in my career,” Daniel said, “because I was able to stay at a high level for a long period of time.”
And that’s what she sees out of Webb.
They are close good friends, both residents of South Florida, and Daniel sees the amount of time Webb puts in at the gym and on the golf course. Daniel is surprised by anyone making a fuss over Webb already winning twice this year and being No. 5 in the world. What should anyone expect from a player good enough to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame at age 30?
Webb’s age is noteworthy only because everyone around her is so young.
Consider the top 10 players in the women’s world ranking. Two of them are teenagers (Lydia Ko, 16, and Lexi Thompson, 19). Everyone else is in her 20s except for Suzann Pettersen, ancient at 32. The average age of the women’s top 10 is 26. The average age of the men’s top 10 is 33.5.
Inkster surely spoke from her own experience when she explained why Webb is still going strong.
“You’ve got to have that desire, that passion. You’ve got to hate playing bad,” Inkster said. “Webby has that. I just think some people are satisfied with making money and getting out, and others are satisfied by winning. Webby has done it right. She respects the game. She respects the older players. She wears her emotions on her sleeve and she’s hard on herself, but she’s got a huge heart.”
Webb pays enough attention to LPGA history to know that Meg Mallon won a U.S. Women’s Open and two other tournaments when she was 41. And that Inkster won three majors after turning 39.
She still gets too hard on herself, but not like when she was younger.
“There was a time when I woke up every day and said, ‘How am I going to be the best in the world?'” she said. “Now it’s more like, ‘How can I be as good as I can be?'”
Webb figures it will be time to walk away when she starts to settle for less than that.
And she’s not ready to walk away.
“I look at some of the really great players in the game, and one thing is different about a handful of players,” Judy Rankin said. “They take great pleasure in being in the heat of the competition and winning — or trying to win — but they also take great pleasure in doing it well. And Karrie is one of those people who gets a lot of satisfaction out of doing it well. And I think that’s one thing that has kept her going for a very long time.”
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