Daly City, Calif. – Two-time U.S. Women’s Open champion Juli Inkster is optimistic that she will be able to make her 23rd consecutive Women’s Open start this July at Blackwolf Run, following a long hiatus due to elbow surgery.
Speaking at U.S. Girls’ Junior Media Day at Lake Merced Golf Club on May 1, the 2000 World Golf Hall of Fame inductee said she has already begun hitting balls off a tee. “In the next couple of weeks I hope to rev that up,” said Inkster. “My goal is to play the week before [the Women’s Open], but I am not rushing it.”
On Jan. 27, Inkster had surgery to repair a torn tendon and an ulnar nerve in her right elbow. The operation was performed by Dr. Gordon Brody and Dr. Michael Willingham of the Sports Orthopedic and Rehabilitation Center in Redwood City, Calif.
It was the first time in Inkster’s 29-year professional career that she had sustained a major injury. That longevity has enabled the 51-year-old Inkster to stay competitive against the younger LPGA Tour players.
During her hiatus from the LPGA Tour, Inkster, who owns seven major titles and five USGA titles, has spent more time with her family. Her oldest daughter, Hayley, will graduate in a few weeks from Santa Clara University with a communications degree, while her youngest daughter, Cori, has decided to attend Villanova University this fall. Inkster said she assisted Cori with her college search while adjusting to life without competitive golf.
“They’re my best buddies,” said Inkster of her children. “Raising two daughters has been the greatest thrill that I have ever had.”
Both of Inkster’s daughters and her husband, Brian, a teaching professional, were on hand for her first U.S. Women’s Open triumph in 1999 at Old Waverly Golf Club in West Point, Miss. Three years later, Inkster won her second Open at Prairie Dunes Country Club in Hutchinson, Kan., the same venue where she claimed the first of her remarkable three consecutive U.S. Women’s Amateur titles (1980-82).
Inkster turned pro in 1983 and was named the LPGA Tour Rookie of the Year after winning two majors (Kraft Nabisco Championship and du Maurier Classic) in 1984. In all, she owns 31 LPGA Tour titles and has amassed more than $11 million in career earnings. She also has competed in nine Solheim Cups for the United States, earning a record 18.5 points.
If Inkster plays the 2012 Women’s Open, it would be her 31st appearance in the championship dating to her amateur days in 1978. She is also in the final year of a 10-year exemption for winning the 2002 Open.
Inkster, who turns 52 on June 24, began feeling discomfort in the elbow late in the 2010 season, but was still able to make 20 starts in 2011 before shutting it down for good in November. The long layoff has Inkster itching to return to competition against the young stars of the tour such as world No. 1 Yani Tseng, Paula Creamer and defending Women’s Open champion So Yeon Ryu of Korea.
“I’m anxious to get back out there and compete,” she said.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.