There are currently six members of the World Golf Hall of Fame & Museum who hail from Australia – David Graham, Kel Nagle, Greg Norman, Peter Thomson, Walter Travis and Karrie Webb. It could be argued that without inspiration from Norman, that number might only be five. Without him, golf fans may have never have heard the name that Thomson once described as the greatest Australian golfer ever: Karrie Webb.
For her 12th birthday, Webb’s grandparents got her tickets to the 1986 Queensland Open at the Coolangatta and Tweed Heads Golf Club, just over 800 miles south of her small coastal hometown of Ayr, Queensland. Webb made the long trip by herself, staying with her aunt in Tweed Heads. That weekend she saw her idol Norman play in person for the first time. He won the tournament, and young Karrie returned home inspired and determined that she would one day travel the world playing golf as a profession.
“Being able to watch him play in that tournament was all the inspiration I needed as a kid to hopefully someday follow in his footsteps” Karrie Webb
By the age of 17, Webb was on her way to establishing herself as one of the top amateur golfers in Australia. The Greg Norman Junior Golf Foundation Masters Championship, held for the first time in December 1991, gave Webb a platform to separate herself from the pack in her idol’s namesake event. Webb captured the girls’ championship along with the red blazer awarded to the winner, but an even greater honor would be waiting just around the corner.
As a perk of winning the tournament, the winners in the boys and girls’ divisions would get to stay with Norman for a week. In late September 1992, Webb ventured off to Hobe Sound near Jupiter, Florida. Marcus Cain, who won the tournament alongside Webb, accompanied her to Florida at the invitation of Norman.
“This was Karrie’s first time in the States,” Cain recalls. “We stayed at Norman’s house and did everything with him. We went to Universal Studios, watched him shoot a Reebok commercial, and played a round of golf with him. It was the opportunity of a lifetime to go over there that week.”
Karrie detailed the experience in her 1992 Ayr High School yearbook, calling it a “dream come true” to meet her idol Greg Norman. A particular highlight for Webb was a weekend trip to Orlando, where they visited Universal Studios and played golf at the Grand Cypress Resort. She wrote:
“On the weekend, Greg took the family, Marcus and I to Orlando, which is about two hours north. On the Saturday, we went to Universal Studios where we had VIP passes. This meant that we didn’t have to line up for any video or shows. We stayed overnight at Grand Cypress where Greg is a Touring Professional.”
Webb called it the “greatest week of her life” and appreciated the hospitality shown to her and Cain by the Norman family.
“He was a very down-to-earth person and had a very down-to-earth family,” Webb recalled several years later, “and the fact that he opened his house and family up to two strange teenagers from Australia, it just was a great learning experience for me.”
Norman recalled saying to his then-wife Laura when Webb left, “I bet you this kid goes a long way.’ You could see it in her eyes.”
Cain says that although he never knew his travel companion well, he acknowledges the legacy Webb has left on Australian golf.
“She’s won the Australian Ladies Masters eight times and she has had a great impact on golf in Australia,” Cain says. “Karrie went on to do fantastically well as a professional.”
A winner of 41 tournaments on the LPGA Tour, seven Major Championships, an inductee into the World Golf Hall of Fame at the age of 30 – the youngest inductee ever – and an endless number of individual accolades, “fantastically well” doesn’t fully describe Webb’s mark on the game.
Putting it best was Webb herself, who said in her Hall of Fame induction speech in 2005, “my achievements on the golf course have way surpassed any expectations and even most of my wildest dreams.”
Travis Puterbaugh is the Curator of the World Golf Hall of Fame & Museum in St. Augustine, Florida. He graduated from Loyola University of New Orleans with a B.A. in Communications, the University of South Florida with an M.A. in History, and has worked in the museum industry for 14 years. Travis considers getting to walk inside the ropes during Day One of the 2016 International Crown as the highlight of his time working for the Hall of Fame. Follow Travis on Twitter at @WGHOFCurator.
(left) Karrie Webb idolized Greg Norman growing up and finally had a chance to meet him at the Greg Norman Junior Masters tournament in 1991. Photograph courtesy of Karrie Webb.
(right) The blazer from the Greg Norman Junior Masters – along with other assorted trophies and artifacts from her golf career – can be seen in Karrie Webb’s locker at the World Golf Hall of Fame & Museum.