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Webb still going strong on LPGA Tour

Karrie Webb will be back to defend her title at the ShopRite Classic later this month.

Karrie Webb. (Theo Karanikos/AP)
Karrie Webb. (Theo Karanikos/AP)Read more

GALLOWAY, N.J. - Karrie Webb had already qualified for induction into the LPGA Hall of Fame before she turned 30. That was a decade ago. She's won 11 more times since then, including her seventh major title (in 2006). The Australian has already won twice this season. And from May 30-June 1, she'll try to become the first repeat champion at the ShopRite Classic. She's third on the money list and fifth in the world rankings, the only one from her country in the top 50.

So, maybe her career isn't quite over yet.

"You don't know what life brings, but I thought if I was still out here playing [at 39] I'd be out here because I was playing well," Webb said yesterday at Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club, where she lifted the trophy 11 months ago with a final-round rally on the Bay Course. "I would have hoped so, but you never know how long [it'll last]. Now, it's about having the opportunities. You don't always pull them off. But to me, finishing fifth when you have the opportunity is better than starting the [last] day in 30th. That's not a lot of motivation to me anymore. That's what keeps me working hard."

Last spring, she finally became the fifth Hall of Famer to win this tournament.

"It's always been one of my favorite stops, so it's good to be here as the defending champion," Webb said. "I've always liked Donald Ross [designed] golf courses. I won [a second straight] U.S. Open at Pine Needles in North Carolina [in 2001]. This tends not to play like a links course. It's a lot greener than they play over in the UK. But I've always played well on those courses as well [having won three British Opens]. I like the challenge of trying to be creative.

"You have to realize that even if you only have a 100-yard shot, it's one of the hardest you'll ever have. There's a lot of crosswinds. It can make that 5-yard target seem like about 2 yards. And if you miss the green, it's very challenging to get up and down. I made some great par saves [on Sunday last year]. To see those go in felt really good. It's one of those courses where you can get away with one part of your game not being great, but the rest has to be really good . . .

"Last year, I was actually in early for an LPGA board meeting, so I got to spend a little more time here than normal. I noticed that the wall has a list of champions. I've been here for a lot of those players' wins, but I didn't realize how many great players had won this tournament. I made a comment about it. I don't know if that was the inspiration I needed. I'd had some good Sunday rounds that put me into the top 10, but never had a chance to win. So I enjoyed it very much. It would be great to be the first to go back-to-back."

She's seen the game evolve. Once, she was a young star. These days, she's trying to hold her own against the likes of teenage winners Lydia Ko and Lexi Thompson. That's given her another perspective on where she's been, and where she is.

"It's probably more satisfying," Webb said. "Obviously, in the last 10 or 12 years, the female maturation point is way younger than the guys. Lydia Ko just won for the third time on the LPGA, and she's 17. I can't even comprehend that. At 17, I was thinking about turning pro in a couple of years. I wasn't ready to play on the LPGA and win. Lydia was winning at 15. I think 17 and 20 is a huge growth [difference] in a young boy or girl. She's definitely not the norm, but they all come out and they're ready to go.

"I don't really look at their age as motivation to beat them. I like to win. Obviously, my body doesn't feel as young as it used to, but I do a lot of things to hopefully not make it feel that way all the time. I've been on tour with the likes of Juli Inkster, who won four majors after she was [39]. A lot of attention has been drawn to the younger generation, and it should. They're very talented. But I don't think age really changes who wins.

"When I first came out, I came up in an era where working out was optional. And I took the option of not doing it. For me, just practicing and working my game was enough. I knew if I worked hard that I would get the results. That worked for a long time. But to keep healthy in this game, to progress as you get older, I had to change. I still work hard, but I have a [physical therapist] travel with me full time now, just to make sure I can avoid as many injuries as possible, especially silly ones that might occur if someone's not paying attention. [I use a] sports psychologist, all different things that I didn't do early. I always believed, don't leave a stone unturned. So I'm open."

Whatever keeps getting it done. Last year, part of her celebration included a walk across Route 9 to a local pub. Maybe she'll get to pick up the tab again.

"If you'd asked me when I was 25 if I was taking my wins for granted, I would have told you I wasn't," Webb said. "But looking back now, I definitely took what was going on in my life very much for granted, that it was just always going to happen. I try to enjoy the good golf more now. I probably should have done that when I was younger. But I might have rested on my laurels a lot more, instead of just pushing."

No reason to stop at this point in the journey.