Colorado Springs, Colo. – Juli Simpson Inkster may have lost a step on the base paths, but she hasn't lost her sense of humor. When she walked into the press room at The Broadmoor on Tuesday, she used a cane as a prop.
Inkster turns 51 in September. She has been around the block a time or two, or three. Her professional career spans 27 years and 31 wins, including seven major championships. Her amateur career included three consecutive U.S. Women's Amateur championships, the last at this same facility, albeit on the Mountain Course, not the East Course being used for this week’s U.S. Women’s Open.
Yet, here she is, back on high ground, making jokes and trying to win a third U.S. Women's Open. Here she is, still golf crazy after all these years.
I enjoy the game, Inkster said. I think if you have a passion for what you do, to me it's not really work. To me, it's... I don't know. It just pecks away at me, because it seems like you can never conquer it.
I think that's what intrigues me. There is always some aspect, or always something that you can do to get better. That's what kind of keeps me going.
|Inkster Reflects On 3 Women's Amateur Wins|
Inkster strikes a compelling figure this week. She has a chance to do something only Jack Nicklaus has done. Nicklaus won two U.S. Opens on the same golf course, Baltusrol. The Golden Bear also won a U.S. Amateur and added another U.S. Open on the same golf course, Pebble Beach. He is the only player with that doubleheader combination of multiple USGA championships on two courses.
Inkster won the first of her U.S. Women's Amateur titles in 1980 at Prairie Dunes. She followed up 22 years later by winning her second Women's Open at Prairie Dunes in 2002, for two USGA championships on the same course.
As noted, she captured the last of those U.S. Women's Amateur titles at The Broadmoor in 1982. With the women back at The Broadmoor this week, well, you can do the math. If Inkster can win this Women's Open, she will match Nicklaus for double-dipping USGA titles at two different locales.
That would be cool; I'll be all over that, Inkster said, smiling. Prairie Dunes, the whole week was just like a dream. I won the first U.S. Amateur, my first one in '80. I go back in 2002, hadn't been back since, and I ended up winning the U.S. Open there.
I mean, it was just a dream come true. And then coming here and, you know, winning the U.S. Amateur here, it would be great to have a chance to win the Open.
Oh, the opportunity is there. But it will not be for the faint of heart, meek of spirit, or carrier of a cane. When Inkster won for the second time at Prairie Dunes, she was inspired by an e-mail sent by her daughter Hayley, who was 12 at the time. The message read: 'Good luck, Mom. You can do it. You can beat Annika. Go for it.
Annika Sorenstam, who is the honorary chairman of the 2011 Women’s Open, won't be a problem this week, just historical precedent. Babe Zaharias remains the oldest to win a Women's Open. She was 43 years and six days old when she captured the title at Salem Country Club in 1954, just months after having cancer surgery. Fay Crocker is the oldest to win an LPGA major of any sort, capturing the 1960 Titleholders Championship at age 45.
Hayley Inkster might want to update the e-mail. One thing is certain, her mother won't stand down. That said, Juli Inkster will be the first to tell you she's not the same player she was 30 years ago at The Broadmoor. What's more, it's not the same game.
I think I was definitely hungrier back then, more competitive, Inkster said. You know... I don't think my game was as good back then as it is now. But I think the competition is a lot better than it was back then.
Match play is so much about just hating to lose, and I didn't like to lose. I probably would say out of the three U.S. Amateurs, I probably didn't hit it the best. But I was the one who got the ball in the hole.
You know, I've raised a family since then and played a lot of different golf over a lot of different areas. I wouldn't trade my three U.S. Amateurs for anything. Looking back on it, I really didn't know what I did back then. Looking back on it now, most girls don't stay amateur that long to even have a chance to do three U.S. Amateurs.
So I just think it's a feat that I'll never forget. I can remember a lot of my shots at The Broadmoor. I couldn't remember this golf course, but I could remember a lot of the shots that I hit.
Is it crazy to think Inkster can hit the shots again, to believe she can turn back pages and rub elbows with Nicklaus? Maybe. Her last major win was that '02 Women's Open. Her last LPGA Tour victory was the 2006 Safeway Classic. She hasn't had a top-10 in a major since a tie for fourth at the '06 Women's British Open.
But that's the thing about Inkster when it comes to golf. With three top-10s this season, she's still vibrant. She still believes she can conquer. She's still crazy, after all these years.
I think my game is so much better than it's been the last couple years, she said. I just feel like if I get everything under control, I feel I have a shot.
Juli Inkster doesn't need a cane, just a chance.