PITTSFORD – If only she could flip back the calendar 20 years, a year before she won the British Open, a year before she joined the LPGA tour, a year before Lexi Thompson was even born. Karrie Webb would gladly visit 1994 and talk some sense into 19-year-old Karrie Webb.
“I wish I had known,” Webb said, “what I know now.”
Don’t we all?
Twenty years ago, she was so consumed with winning tournaments that she failed to treasure them when she did. She was so immersed with first that she didn’t realize her run of 16 consecutive top 10 finishes was a tour record. Fifteen years later, her remarkable string of success still stands.
Webb has won seven majors and 41 titles in all, including two this year. She was the first LPGA member to win more than $1 million in a season, which she did as a rookie in 1996. She has pumped more than $18 million into her bank account, a life savings for a woman who once failed to savor her life’s work.
“I was asked many times during the really good years whether I was appreciating it,” Webb said Thursday after shooting a 1-over 73 in the Wegmens LPGA Championship. “I remember saying that I did, but I don’t think I really did. I took it for granted. I didn’t enjoy it as much as I should have.”
Webb, the eighth-ranked woman on tour, is enjoying the game while she’s still competitive. She’s made the cut in all but three of her last 54 tournaments, but she hasn’t won a major since 2006. She’s looking to squeeze a few more years out of a Hall of Fame career knowing her best days are behind her. Twenty years have given Webb perspective she once lacked, perspective she’s sharing with the bigger and stronger – and definitely longer – generation that followed. She has become an elder stateswoman, a mentor to up-and-comers such as top-ranked Stacy Lewis and any young gun willing to listen.
Here’s hoping Lexi Thompson is paying attention. Thompson shredded Monroe Golf Club with a 66, surprising only because she didn’t fire a 64. She missed two short putts en route to back-to-back bogeys on the back nine. She destroyed the par 5s and had a share of the lead with South Korean Meena Lee.
“A lot of times, I just step back and realize how grateful I am to be doing what I love and traveling the world, getting to play the best courses and against the top players in the world,” Thompson said. “It’s such a huge honor and a dream of mine since I was little.”
And yet you wonder if she really does, not because she’s lying but because she doesn’t truly understand. She had so much success at such an early age that it’s difficult to fathom her fully comprehending her place in golf. Webb has navigated the potholes and endured the pitfalls. Thompson is just getting started.
Thompson qualified for the U.S. Open when she was 12. She turned professional when she was 15. She won her first LPGA tournament in 2011, when she was 16. She won the Kraft Nabisco Championship, her first major title, earlier this season and has become a marketing giant in women’s golf.
It seems like yesterday in which Webb stood where Thompson stands now, a great player only beginning to realize her true potential at age 19. It’s where the similarities end. The passage of time between Webb and Thompson, and their contrasts in styles, was evident again Thursday.
Webb marveled over how the teenage sensation took the course apart on a chilly day with temperatures in the 60s and swirling winds blowing across the 6,722-yard layout in suburban Rochester.
“It was tough for me, but it didn’t look too tough for her,” Webb said. “She played really nicely today. I said at the start of the week that this was a course that suited her. It’s playing pretty long, but she gets it out there. The fairways aren’t tight so she can swing away.”
Thompson is nearing 20, Webb pushing 40. Thompson is 6-foot-1, devoted to physical fitness and fully focused. She’s outgoing and friendly, proud enough of her body and carefree enough to wear a bikini for a risqué upcoming commercial for Puma. It’s about building a bold image, a brand.
Webb is seven inches shorter, trying to preserve a body after a million swings, a strong woman who is comfortable in her own skin. She has little to prove. “I had my time,” she said. She’s riding experience over athleticism, intelligent course management and shot-making over grip and rip. She has no choice.
Thompson outdrove Webb by 30 yards all afternoon. Thompson hit 16 greens in regulation. She had six birdies in her first 12 holes and was 7-under par after making a 3-footer birdie on the par 5 14th hole. She recovered from hiccups on Nos. 15 and 16 with a terrific approach on the challenging 422-yard finishing hole.
It was a great birdie to cap a terrific first round. She can set herself for a weekend in contention with another good score today. Webb’s advice: Enjoy.
“There is such a fine line between playing really well and having average results. You fall on the wrong side of that fine line. It’s tough out here to explain, even to yourself, why the results aren’t great. You know, I wish I would have appreciated the good years more.”