U.S. SENIOR WOMEN'S OPEN
Inkster’s Passion for the Game Still Burns Brightly May 9, 2019 By Ron Driscoll, USGA

Juli Inkster's competitive fire came out during her 2002 U.S. Women's Open triumph at Prairie Dunes. (USGA/JD Cuban) 

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In early April, Juli Inkster missed the cut in the ANA Inspiration, but not before birdieing her last hole. Only after the round did she tell Golf Channel analyst and longtime friend Judy Rankin that it was likely her final start in the LPGA Tour major championship, which Inkster won twice.

“I just kind of wanted to ride off into the sunset,” said Inkster, a seven-time major champion, including two U.S. Women’s Opens, in 1999 and 2002.

There’s actually very little chance of that happening. Inkster tees it up next week in the 2nd U.S. Senior Women’s Open Championship at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club, where she hopes to improve upon her runner-up finish last July to Laura Davies. Inkster will resume her duties as an analyst for Fox Sports’ coverage of USGA championships two weeks later at the 74th U.S. Women’s Open at the Country Club of Charleston (S.C.). And in September in Scotland, she will seek her third consecutive victory as captain of the USA Solheim Cup Team.

That sunset looks as though it’s a long way off, especially if you heard her addressing players at the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship last fall at Norwood Hills Country Club in St. Louis.

“I’m 58 years old, and I still have an amazing passion for golf,” said Inkster, a member of both the LPGA Hall of Fame and the World Golf Hall of Fame. “You players have families, kids, jobs, and you still have a passion for golf. You want tips, you want to get better. I’m just like that, always working on my game. It’s just one of those things you do.”

Inkster considers herself a late bloomer, having taken up the game at 15 when she began working at Pasatiempo Golf Club, a renowned Alister Mackenzie-Marion Hollins design in Santa Cruz, Calif. It took Inkster a long time to pick up a club, even though her family had lived alongside the 14th hole for more than a decade.

Inkster qualified for her first U.S. Women’s Open in 1978, and she made the cut at age 18 at the Country Club of Indianapolis (Ind.), improving from an opening round of 80 to shoot 72-72-75 and finish in a tie for 23rd.

“From then on, the USGA has been my thing,” said Inkster, who two years later began her run of three consecutive U.S. Women’s Amateur titles (1980-82), a feat last accomplished in 1934. “Growing up at Pasatiempo, I learned how to play tough golf courses well. It really helped me with USGA venues, where par is your friend.”

Last July at Chicago Golf Club in the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open, Inkster’s putter was not her friend. She never seriously threatened Davies, who shot 66-68 on the weekend and waltzed to a 10-stroke victory. Only six players finished within 20 shots of the dominant Davies.

“Laura played very well; she’s an amazing player,” said Inkster, who totaled 33 putts in the final round and was mulling the adoption of Matt Kuchar’s “arm-lock” putting style. “Could I have done better? Yes, my putting was horrible. Other than that, I was happy with the way I played.”

Inkster played in all three U.S. Women’s Opens that have been conducted at Pine Needles, with her best finish a tie for 12th in 2001, when Karrie Webb won the second of her back-to-back titles.

“It’s much more of a traditional course than Chicago Golf Club – tree-lined, with undulating fairways and greens,” said Inkster. “You couldn’t go to two more opposite courses on the spectrum. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.”

Inkster has played in four LPGA events in 2019, including the ANA, missing the cut in each of them. She played her last U.S. Women’s Open in 2014 at Pinehurst and made her record 35th start in the championship a memorable one, sitting in a tie for third through three rounds before finishing in a tie for 15th, two days before her 54th birthday.

The fire is there, make no doubt, but it doesn’t burn quite as brightly.

“I’ve done the grind,” said Inkster. “Every day is Saturday for me now. I do what I like to do. If that’s golf, I do golf. I love to work out. I play pickleball. I love to cook. I like to travel. I’m working with Fox, I’ve got the Solheim Cup coming up, so I keep myself busy. But if I want to go out and practice, I make time for that.”

Although Inkster would have loved to have seen the U.S. Senior Women’s Open come along sooner, she applauds its presence and the opportunity it provides for women to keep competing.

“I got to see a lot of old friends, many of whom I played college golf with,” said Inkster, a three-time All-America player at San Jose State, of the 2018 inaugural. “When it was first announced, I can’t tell you how many people started brushing their clubs off and hitting balls, looking forward to playing in it or trying to qualify. I think everybody – the USGA, the players, Fox TV, all of them – were blown away by how successful it was.”

Inkster fully expects to see Annika Sorenstam, who turns 50 on Oct. 9, 2020, in this championship in two years, even though Sorenstam retired from competition in 2008.

“I bet you she will play,” said Inkster, who edged Sorenstam by two strokes for her second U.S. Open victory in 2002 at Prairie Dunes Country Club. “Anytime you can add a USGA championship to your résumé, why not? She’s still competitive… you don’t lose that.”

Inkster certainly hasn’t.

Ron Driscoll is the senior manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at rdriscoll@usga.org.

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