PINEHURST Thirty-five is enough for Juli Inkster.
The oldest and most experienced player at the U.S. Women’s Open said Wednesday she expected this to be her last appearance at the tournament as she transitions into a television career.
“Shoot, I’ve played in 35 of these,” said Inkster, a two-time Women’s Open champion who will turn 54 next week. “So that’s pretty impressive. I love where I am right now. I look at the young girls out there and I’m like, ‘Wow, I’m so glad I’m not starting.’ I’ve really enjoyed golf. I’ve really enjoyed the competition. I love playing. But I’ve got a lot of new stuff.”
No one has played in more Women’s Opens than Inkster, starting with her first as an amateur in 1978, when she was so awestruck she stole golf balls from the practice range. She went on to win in 1999 and 2002, her 16-under score in the former still a Women’s Open record, and her playoff loss to Patty Sheehan in 1992 still rankles.
In a week when the focus is unavoidably on an 11-year-old, amateur qualifier Lucy Li, Inkster stands out for her longevity – and now, for her departure.
“I hate to hear her say that,” Paula Creamer said. “It just kills me, but I understand, too. Juli’s my role model. ... It just shows you how you can balance your personal life, being a mother, being a wife, and being a top competitor, all at the same time. But there’s a reason why there’s only one Juli Inkster, too. Because that’s just a lot to have on your plate and she does it with such ease.”
Inkster’s last top-10 in a major came in 2006, the same year as the last of her 31 LPGA wins. Her kids are grown, many of her peers retired. Inkster is one of the last of the previous generation, and knows it’s time to step aside and let this generation take over.
“I grew up playing against all my college buddies with the camaraderie we had, the bantering that we had, and I think it’s just different out here (now),” Inkster said. “Not that it’s good or bad, but it’s more of a job. And this is no lie, in the ’80s, on a Monday, you could blow a bomb off and no one was here. Now everybody’s here on Sunday night and everybody is playing, practicing on Monday, and it’s a grind.”
Inkster will play with Cheyenne Woods, Tiger’s niece, and Natalie Gulbis in one of the marquee pairings of the opening two rounds.
She said she’ll continue to play a handful of tournaments this year and next, but her focus will shift to her new job with the Golf Channel. She’ll also serve as captain of the United States team in the 2015 Solheim Cup, the women’s version of the Ryder Cup, to be played in Germany.
Earlier this year, she served as a TV analyst for two tournaments she would normally have played in the past, and was surprised that she didn’t miss being on the course. She didn’t hold much back in her press conference Wednesday, which bodes well for her television career.
“I’m kind of learning on the fly,” Inkster said. “I haven’t dropped any F-bombs. I haven’t gone viral. So I feel like I’ve done pretty good for two weeks.”
DeCock: email@example.com, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947
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