09 Dec 2020 | Women and girls | Amateur golf |

Karrie throws doors open to gen next

by Mark Hayes

Emily Mahar (left) and Gabi Ruffels (right) get out with captain Karrie Webb on her boat in Florida.
Emily Mahar (left) and Gabi Ruffels (right) get out with captain Karrie Webb on her boat in Florida.

Covid-19 has stopped many things in 2020, but it couldn’t halt the Karrie Webb Scholarship.

Showing the tenacity so typical of her World Golf Hall of Fame career, Webb had been intent on continuing the Australian amateur game’s greatest prize that she first offered in 2008.

So while the small matter of a global pandemic changed one of the intended participants, it couldn’t stop another two young Aussie women savouring their up-close experience with the nation’s most successful major championship golfer.

At her Florida home, as opposed to a key LPGA Tour event of previous seasons, Webb played host recently to Victorian Gabi Ruffels and Queenslander Emily Mahar, who stepped into the shoes of the unavailable Grace Kim as Australia’s next highest player on the world amateur rankings.

And while the surroundings might have been different to previous years, the experience was still next level.

Webb opened her home to the two American college-based athletes and were all ears as the Queenslander took them to play some local courses.

“I was just so glad that we could make something happen,” Webb said.

“I really didn’t want the girls to miss out – I know it’s not a major championship, but I feel they enjoyed their time at my home and got plenty out of the week.”

It would be tough to imagine a better way for Ruffels to tune up for this week’s US Women’s Open Championship than to learn the tricks of the trade from a dual champion of that event, asking about Webb’s preparation for majors, how she handles nerves and her practice habits.

“What an opportunity!” beamed Ruffels, runner-up at the 2020 US Women’ Amateur after winning it in 2019.

“It’s a money-can’t-buy experience … I’m about to tee up in a major as an amateur and I get to ask a seven-time major champion anything I want. That’s unbelievably cool.

“I was able to get so much priceless information about practice, especially short game – and we all know how much of a wizard Karrie is around the greens.

“So I’m glad I got to witness this up close and ask her everything about it.

“This is going to help me so much for the US Open next week and beyond.”

Mahar admitted to nerves when she learnt of her prize after her best season at Virginia Tech, including reaching the Round of 32 at the US Women’s Amateur.

“I learnt so much throughout the week from Karrie,” Mahar said.

“I came with a list of questions I wanted to ask and I got them all answered and so much more.

“I was pretty nervous when I first arrived, but Karrie just made us feel so welcome and comfortable to ask anything we wanted.”

But it wasn’t all about golf, with both young women getting to chill at Webb’s house and even get out on her boat.

“I wanted to make sure we got plenty of golf time in, but I also wanted them to see a little bit of the area and have some down time, so I’m glad the weather played its part and we got out on the boat and just hung out,” Webb said.

“It’s very refreshing for me to have the girls around … I truly look forward to this week every year and it makes me keep my short game sharp for the odd match!

“Both girls were very engaged throughout the week and asked some great questions – they just about bled me dry of information on and off the course,” she joked.

Webb acknowledged the 2020/21 series that will determine next year’s scholarship recipients would again be different to a “normal” year.

But she said she’d do whatever it took to ensure the cherished tradition would continue.

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