Originally created 08/07/02

A major focus, a minor problem



Karrie Webb was a 20-year-old unknown when she first won the Women's British Open, before it was a major championship and before she had any idea how good she was.

That was in 1995.

"I'm setting goals now that seven years ago I never dreamed of setting," Webb said as she waited for a series of flights that eventually took her to the Ayrshire coast of Scotland.

High goals come with lofty expectations, and Webb agrees this season hasn't been her best. She has only one victory heading into the British Open, which starts Thursday on the Ailsa Course at Turnberry.

Typically a fast starter - 16 of her 27 victories have come before summer - Webb barely got out of the blocks before Annika Sorenstam had won five times, including a major championship, and had virtually wrapped up the player of the year and LPGA Tour money titles.

Where does that leave Webb?

"I'm setting little goals for the rest of the year," she said. "But when you've achieved so much, little goals don't seem to mean a lot."

One big goal that remains is to win the British Open.

At stake is a chance to become the first woman to win the Super Slam (the Nabisco, U.S. Open, LPGA Championship, British Open and now-defunct du Maurier Classic), and to join Mickey Wright, the only woman to have won a major four years in a row. Wright won a major every year from 1958-64.

"It could still turn out to be a good year," Webb said.

Her problem is defining exactly what a great year is.

She already has been No. 1 in the world. She already has won the career Grand Slam, becoming the youngest woman (26) to capture all four majors. She already has enough points for the LPGA Hall of Fame.

Johnny Miller once said that when he got to the top of the mountain, he looked around and wondered, "What now?" He said the difference between him and Jack Nicklaus was that Nicklaus reached the top and looked for another mountain.

All Webb sees is Mount Everest.

Like so many other great players, she has fallen into the trap of putting her entire emphasis on the majors at the expense of everything else. That could lead to boom or bust, with not much in between.

She was tied for the lead going into the final round of the Nabisco Championship, only to falter Sunday and finish seventh. She was two strokes out of the lead going into the weekend at the LPGA Championship, but went 72-74 and tied for fourth.

Then came the U.S. Women's Open, where she had a chance to become the first player to win three in a row. She opened with a 79 and missed the cut.

"I wanted to play well in the majors. Those are the only tournaments I focused on this year," Webb said. "Apart from making sure my game is progressing, I haven't really focused on anything else. I might need to change the way I look at the year."

The focus wasn't always this narrow.

Webb was splitting time between Europe and the Futures Tour in 1995 when she won the British Open at Woburn over Sorenstam and Jill McGill. She earned her LPGA card that fall by finishing second at Q-school, despite playing with a broken bone in her hand.

The rest is history.

She sandwiched a victory between two runner-up finishes in her first three LPGA starts, then closed out her remarkable rookie season with a victory in the LPGA Tour Championship to become the first woman to surpass $1 million in a year.

"I was going to give myself until this age to see if I could make it," Webb said. "Yeah, I wanted to win rookie of the year. But I didn't think I would win four times and win the money list. I didn't know I could get better, and I did. Not a lot of people can say they were No. 1, even for a day. I never thought I would be able to say that."

She can't be faulted for zeroing in on the majors, the benchmark of greatness in golf. Webb was only 24 when she was hounded by questions of what it would take to win the big one, and the answer was swift and decisive.

No one - not even Tiger Woods - completed the career Grand Slam as quickly as Webb, who won all four in a span of eight majors.

What next?

Staying on top has been more difficult than getting there. Webb makes no apologies, refusing to let the game consume her life. She says she is working just as hard now as when she won seven times and two majors in 2000.

The weather in south Florida was perfect last week, and Webb longed to take her boat out to the Atlantic Ocean. Instead, she spent two days under a steamy sun, pounding balls to get ready for the British Open.

"Maybe I would have gone fishing if I'd already won a couple of majors," she said.

She can't catch Sorenstam this year, although there is still one big fish waiting across the pond.