Juli Inkster doesn’t believe everything she reads, even if she’s the one who said it.
Perhaps the most significant of her seven majors was the U.S. Women’s Open in 1999, the biggest event in her sport and one that eluded her for a decade. Inkster was 39, the mother of two young girls, and ready to split time coaching fifth-grade basketball, baking brownies and dabbling on the LPGA Tour.
“My goal right now is to play on the Solheim Cup in 2000,” she said after the Open win. “After that … I just really foresee myself playing 10 to 12 tournaments a year. I’m going to have a first-grader and a fifth-grader, and it’s just getting harder and harder to take them out.”
The quote was read to Inkster as she was getting off a plane recently in Chicago, where she was headed out to Rich Harvest Farms with the rest of the American team for a practice session. At 49, she will be the oldest player in Solheim Cup history.
“This is a very good opportunity for something to be reiterated,” Inkster said, trying to stifle her laughter. “Don’t believe everything you read. You can’t believe that just because I said it. I don’t know what I’m doing.”
She knows exactly what she’s doing. She just doesn’t know how to stop, if she even wants to.
Inkster doesn’t need a birth certificate to realize how long she has been grinding at golf. She doesn’t even need to be reminded what she said 10 years ago about the alleged twilight of her career.
All she has to do is look around her to see who else is dressed in red, white and blue.
U.S. captain Beth Daniel used one of her picks on Inkster, the other on 19-year-old Michelle Wie. Inkster had already won three majors and was pregnant with her first daughter when Wie was born in Hawaii. Also on the team is 20-year-old Morgan Pressel and 23-year-old Paula Creamer.
Inkster has a daughter starting her sophomore year at Loyola Marymount.
“The thing is, 1999 doesn’t seem that long ago,” Inkster said. “When I first started, I thought I would play three or four years and I’d be out of here quick. And here I am, 49, still playing. But you know what? I like what I do. So I do it. I guess I could stay home and drive my kids and my husband crazy, but we all work at it together.”
If there was a crossroads, it came in the months after her first child, Hayley, was born. Inkster was trying to combine being a mother with being a professional golfer, and neither was going particularly well.
“I was not doing very good at the golf thing, I didn’t think I was doing any good at the Mommy thing, and I always (stunk) at the wife thing,” she said. “I felt like I wasn’t doing anything great. That offseason, I started working with Mike McGetrick. I said, ‘If I’m doing to do this, there’s got to be some type of plan to get me on the right track.’
“It took until Hayley was 2 when I realized that as long as she’s with me, it doesn’t matter.”
Cori came along four years later, and by then, Inkster realized her kids were doing just fine. She earned her way back to the Solheim Cup in 1998, where she delivered one of her biggest moments (followed by one of her many awful dance celebrations).
Inkster and Meg Mallon were 1 up when Liselotte Neumann hit a spectacular shot from a deep, front bunker to about a foot from the hole in the back right of the green. Inkster had a 40-foot putt to halve the hole. Her 8-year-old daughter was watching.
“Late in the day on Saturday, I had Hayley in the cart with me,” said Judy Rankin, the U.S. captain at Muirfield Village. “We pulled up on top of the hill to get a good look at the green on No. 17. Juli made a bomb — whenever you see her dancing in those highlights, that was the putt — and it was sheer pandemonium. There were probably 25,000 people watching this one match.”
Walking off the 18th green after a 2-and-1 victory, Hayley said to her mother, “Now I know why you do what you do.”
Rankin, who has been a part of the LPGA Tour for nearly 50 years, has rarely seen another player as competitive in women’s golf.
Inkster completed the career Grand Slam in 1999, was inducted into the Hall of Fame a year later, and won her final major in 2002 when she overcame a two-shot deficit against Annika Sorenstam with a 66 in the final round at Prairie Dunes.
She has had to make sacrifices to achieve greatness, but not her family.
“She couldn’t tell you who was the president of the United States, but she knows where her kids are at all times,” Dottie Pepper said. “She’s a super mom.”
The focus shifts to golf Aug. 21-23 at the Solheim Cup, her eighth appearance, and possibly the most difficult. Inkster brings experience to a U.S. team that has three rookies and four players who have played only one Solheim Cup.
“I hope they brought me on this team to play some golf,” she said.
That part has been a struggle. Inkster has yet to finish in the top 10 this year, which would be a first since joining the LPGA Tour in 1984. She tried too hard to make the team on her own, and part of her summer was consumed with being on the LPGA board of directors, which forced out commissioner Carolyn Bivens.
How much longer can she play?
“Let’s worry about this one,” Inkster said, “and then we’ll talk about it.”
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