SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – Juli Inkster broke a record with her first tee shot Thursday afternoon at the U.S. Women’s Open. She gave herself a shot in the arm with her final stroke of the day at Sebonack Golf Club.
Inkster, 53, who is playing in her 34th U.S. Women’s Open thanks to a special exemption, holed out for eagle on the par-5 18th hole to finish at even-par 72 to begin her 34th start in the championship.
“It was a nice way to finish. I had the right angle, I had the right club, and I hit the right shot,” Inkster said with a broad smile after her 103-yard gap wedge landed past the hole and then spun back into it. “I feel really good. I played well all day, and to finish at even par, I’m happy with it. I’m right there in the tournament.”
Inkster has played in half of the 68 editions of the U.S. Women’s Open, breaking the record she shared with Marlene Hagge.
“I just love the U.S. Open,” Inkster said on the eve of the championship. “Growing up, that was the championship everybody wanted to win.”
Inkster has won it twice, in 1999 and 2002, to go with 29 other LPGA Tour titles. However, the three-time U.S. Women’s Amateur champion has made the cut only once in her last six tries in the U.S. Women’s Open, tying for 26th in 2009.
She came into the week having posted her best finish of the 2013 season, a tie for 13th at the Walmart NW Arkansas Classic and just her second top-20 of the year. She had hoped to “get out of my own way” this week, and Thursday, in what could be her final appearance in the championship, she was able to do that.
“I felt really relaxed. I wasn’t uptight, and maybe that’s because I came in here late,” said Inkster, who played earlier in the week in the CVS Charity Classic, an unofficial event hosted by PGA Tour players Billy Andrade and Brad Faxon in Barrington, R.I. “You know, I didn’t have a lot of the usual things going on. I played nine holes yesterday here by myself, and it was nice.”
Inkster first qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open when she was 18 years old. Back then she dreamed of winning the championship. All these years later, that dream is still the same. What will it take?
“Well, you know me, I always hit a couple of waywards, and if I can just eliminate those, then I should be OK,” she said. “I have to come out here tomorrow and shoot a couple under par. There are a lot of good players playing well. It’s a different golf course, though [than the usual U.S. Women’s Open site]. They can set it up so many different ways. Which is kind of good and kind of scary. So we’ll see what happens.”
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared in USGA websites.