This week's Bank of Hope Founders Cup is all about honoring the LPGA's past, present and future and no player in the field of 144 has closer links to the tournament on multiple levels than Karrie Webb.
Australian Webb was a member of the LPGA’s Board of Directors when the Founders Cup was first launched in 2011 with no prize money on offer -- a high-risk move by Commissioner Mike Whan that soon proved to be hugely successful.
She won that inaugural Founders Cup by one shot over Brittany Lincicome and Paula Creamer, and three years later clinched the title for a second time to become the tournament's only multiple champion.
Above all, though, Webb rejoices in the fact that the players of today, and the future stars of tomorrow, can pay homage to their predecessors in the LPGA.
“I'd felt like we'd never done enough to show our appreciation to our Founders and when I first came on Tour they (some of the Founders) were young enough to still be out on Tour regularly,” said Webb, a Hall of Famer who has won 41 LPGA titles, including seven major championships.
“The girls just don't get to see them (the Founders) as much any more, so I love the fact that now there’s at least one week a year when the girls get to see them and understand really why we are still playing at this level.”
The Founders Cup was created to honor the 13 women who launched the LPGA in 1950, and three of those Founders -- Marilynn Smith, Shirley Spork and Marlene Hagge Vossler – are attending this week’s event. Spork, at the age of 89, played in the tournament’s pro-am competition.
"Shirley is amazing and she looks great for 89,” said Webb. “She's still very active in playing golf. We're really lucky to have her and Marilynn (87) here this week. Marlene (83) is a little bit younger than them but they are still as healthy as they are and able to travel and see us."
SUPPORT FOR GIRLS GOLF
With no prize money on offer for the players, that inaugural Founders Cup raised money for the growth of the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf initiative, handing over half the tournament purse of $1 million with the remainder going to various charities selected by the players.
“When Mike Whan came up with that concept, it was quite a risk at that time for him as a relatively new commissioner,” said Webb, who was a Player Director on the LPGA’s Board.
“Our playing schedule was very thin and the one tournament he added had no prize money. But he got all of us on the board to buy into the concept and then all the players to buy into it. That’s what made this tournament so special in that first year, we were essentially doing what our Founders did for us 67 years ago.”
Webb, now aged 42, had no female role models to follow as an emerging golfer in Australia and like many of her compatriots, she was inspired by ‘The Shark’, Greg Norman.
“We didn't have a lot of women's golf televised, none really at all until the Australian Masters was played in 1990,” said Webb. “That was the first time I had seen women's golf on TV, and by then I was 15, 16 years old.
“So I didn't have a lot of female role models to look up to growing up and Greg Norman was the one. Once I came out on the LPGA Tour, I had read about all these great golfers but I hadn't seen them play. It was very special to me being on Tour,” said Webb, who won her first LPGA tournament in only her second career start, at the 1996 HealthSouth Inaugural.
“I think the greatest generation of the LPGA was the eighties and nineties players ... Nancy Lopez, Beth Daniels, Pat Bradley, Betsy King, Patty Sheahan ... they probably make up a third of the Hall of Fame, maybe more, from that generation. They were still on Tour so I feel very fortunate to have been able to play alongside them."
Asked what career goals still remained in her sights, Webb replied: "I don't think I really have any set goals any more. Last year, it was to make the Olympic team and I didn't play well enough to do that which was disappointing. I don't know if I will be playing enough golf to make the Olympics in four years' time.
“So I don't really have anything else left to achieve, except just my own satisfaction that I can still win out here as a 40-plusser."