2002: Perspective - Mom or not, Inkster has character

Over and over, lame-brain broadcasters and writers kept saying it: “Mother of two, mother of two.” That, of course, would be Juli Inkster, winner of the U.S. Women’s Open.

I heard it so many times, I figured she had about 200 children by the time the championship was over.

What’s so special about having two children and winning national championships? Nothing. Jack Nicklaus has five children, but I never heard “father of five, father of five.”

The thing that was special about Inkster at the Women’s Open was her spirit and determination. If I really wanted to analyze this mother mania, which I don’t, I would say the male-dominated world of golf journalism has a complex and was celebrating the fact that a mother – any mother – won the tournament.

This should not detract from the beauty of the U.S. Women’s Open or the magical performance by Inkster. With two zero-putt birdies in a row in the final round, she demonstrated with flair that American golfers, emotional golfers, players who miss greens, players in their 40s, and, yes, mothers (Inkster was all of the above) can be as formidable as any Hogan-like Swede.

What a contrast in temperaments this was, the fiery Inkster facing off with the ice-cold Annika Sorenstam. Each of the three U.S. Golf Association open championships managed to rock our socks off with memorable golf this year. And each filtered down to a battle between two golfers with very different personalities.

In the U.S. Open, it was the methodical Tiger Woods over the buoyant Phil Mickelson. In the U.S. Senior Open, it was the impassive Don Pooley over the irrepressible Tom Watson.

Golf can be magic. For spectators, for players, golf can be the ultimate sporting challenge – like a good joust, without horses. Already it has been a wonderful summer for golf, and the best may be yet to come. There is this guy named Tiger, halfway through his Grand Slam run.

Rather than focus on the chip-ins, putt-ins or par saves that led to Inkster’s second U.S. Women’s Open title, let’s talk about her character. She has always had character; it didn’t just emerge at this major championship.

A three-time U.S. Women’s Amateur winner, Inkster was a celebrated amateur who figured to take pro golf by storm. So what happened? In her first attempt to qualify for the LPGA Tour 19 years ago, she failed.

I vividly remember that LPGA Qualifying Tournament. Inkster cried and cried. But not for long. The LPGA, in a bizarre transition from two annual Qualifying Tournaments to one, actually held three Q-Schools in 1983. Inkster was co-medalist at the second one; before the end of the year she had claimed her first LPGA title.

Just as clearly, I remember Nancy Lopez winning her first LPGA event in 1978. I feel lucky to have seen all these events, but I feel even luckier to be part of the honorable legion of golf fanatics. Professional golf regularly captures our attention, but everyday golf is what really motivates us.

At 45, Lopez is hanging it up. At 42, Inkster says she will play one more year and then reassess her career. As lengthy as careers in pro golf may seem, ordinary people in the same age group as Lopez and Inkster often dream of playing more golf and playing it better than ever before.

The career of an amateur golfer can last indefinitely. Competition at the club level may not be the U.S. Open, but it often seems and feels like it. Golf has a knack for elevating the pressure and the importance of the smallest of tournaments. This is part of the game’s magic.

I have one last comment: Women, save your protests over Augusta National. There are some clubs in the United States where a women cannot set foot in the parking lot. At Augusta National, where there never has been a female member, women can and do play golf.

If you still need a cause to rally around, how about picketing the USGA for its failure to organize and sponsor a U.S. Senior Women’s Open? It’s high time for such an event.

Sure, it may not be commercially appealing, but women deserve it. Golf fans deserve it. If the minimum age is 45, Lopez deserves it. In three years, Inkster will deserve it. I can hear the golf piper: “More magic, more magic.”

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