Inkster Still Determined to Add to Her Legacy of Greatness May 16, 2019 | SOUTHERN PINES, N.C. By Ron Sirak

Juli Inkster struggled on Pine Needles' greens in Round 1 in her quest to win her sixth career USGA championship title. (USGA/Chris Keane)

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If one definition of greatness is sustained success over a long period of time, Juli Inkster qualifies. She won the first of her 10 major championships at the 1980 U.S. Women’s Amateur, when Jimmy Carter was President, and at the U.S. Senior Women’s Open began a quest to add yet another entry to the USGA record book.

Inkster is already one of only five to win the Women’s Amateur three consecutive times, and the only one since Virginia Van Wie in 1934. She is one of seven to win both the Women’s Amateur and the U.S. Women’s Open. And her three Women’s Amateur championships are topped only by Glenna Collett Vare (6) and JoAnne Carner (5).

If Inkster hoists the trophy Sunday at the Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club, she would join Carner, Carol Semple Thompson, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods with a record three different USGA championships. And she’d be tied with Vare and Hollis Stacy with six career titles, eighth best all time. Talk about being in exclusive company.

“I feel like I have a good shot, but you got to fill all the boxes in,” Inkster said about her chances before teeing it up on Thursday. “The key to this golf course is hit as many greens as you can. The shorter the iron in, the better off you are. So get the ball in the fairway and hit greens. “

If Inkster is going to win, it is going to take a comeback. After hitting to a foot on Nos. 12 and 13 – her third and fourth holes – and converting the putts to get to two under par, the devilish Donald Ross greens did her in. She missed a five-foot birdie on No. 14, followed that with a short par miss on No. 15 then on No. 17 putted from collection area to another collection area and did well to save bogey.

What looked early on like it was going to be the round of the day turned into a disappointing 78.

“I’m in shock,” Inkster said. “I hit the ball so good. I missed one fairway. But I putted so bad. I had one four-putt and three three-putts. And I had been putting so well. These greens are just so difficult. I know I’m still in it, but I’m just in shock.”

To go along with those 13 fairways hit, she also hit 13 greens but needed 36 putts – actually more when you count the times she used the putter from off the green. After her round, Inkster put in some serious time on the practice green under the watchful eye of her husband, Brian, who is a club pro.

If there is one thing Inkster knows well it’s that a championship is a marathon – in this case 72 holes. And her career path is paved with impressive longevity. Since 1978, she’s made 712 LPGA starts with 31 victories, is the only woman to win multiple majors in three consecutive decades and is one of seven with the career Grand Slam. And all that has been sandwiched around giving birth to two daughters.

If you need more evidence that she is one of the all-time greats, Inkster, who turns 59 on June 24, played on the winning 1982 Curtis Cup team for the United States, won the U.S. Women’s Open twice, was inducted to the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2000 and won LPGA events 23 years apart – 1983 to 2006. For someone who has done so many great things in her career, a victory in the U.S. Senior Women’s Open would be particularly satisfying.

Perhaps that’s why, when she stepped on the 10th tee at Pine Needles on Thursday, her opening hole of the championship, an old friend came to visit – the butterflies of apprehension familiar to anyone who’s competed at any level from a weekend Nassau to a national championship.  

“If you don't have the jitters you need to retire,” Inkster said about that feeling 39 years after winning her first USGA championship. “No matter if it's your first tournament in two years or if you played last week, it's a USGA event. Everybody wants to win a USGA event. So you get the jitters, and I think that's good.”

While very much aware that she has a chance to add her third different USGA title, Inkster draws on her vast experience to focus on the task at hand – hit the next shot as well as she can with full commitment. And, in this case, put a bad round behind her.

She will need to draw upon that vast reservoir of knowledge and experience to play better on Friday and get back into contention. Watching her stand on the 15th fairway during the first round with arms folded, staring and steaming, it was not clear if she was thinking about the next shot or the last one.

The bogey train upon which she embarked made you think it was the latter. But the evident passion was a reminder that the completive fire is as intense now as when she picked up her first U.S. Women’s Amateur seven Presidents ago.

That’s what champions are all about. No matter how long they play, that passion never goes away.    

Ron Sirak is a Massachusetts-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA digital channels.

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