SINGAPORE – Juli Inkster turns 50 this year. Let that sink in for a minute. We’re less than 100 miles from the equator, which means it’s fantastically hot here at the HSBC Women’s Champions. Yet there Inkster sits, one shot off the lead heading into the weekend, grinding as hard as ever. She’s truly a modern marvel.
“Golf to me never really seemed like a business, never really seemed like my livelihood,” said Inkster, who turns 50 June 24, the first round of the Wegmans LPGA Championship.
“Maybe that’s why I’m still out here playing.”
Inkster casually mentioned during a press conference Friday afternoon that this may be her last season on tour. If that’s true, and that’s a big IF, what a tremendous loss for the LPGA. No one has mastered the art of motherhood and sport better than Inkster.
The Hall of Famer isn’t in Singapore for sentimental reasons. She didn’t travel to the other side of the world – alone – to give the crowds a ceremonial wave and the media a wise crack. Inkster is here to win. Bogeys on three of the last four holes left her understandably frustrated. Don’t think for a minute, however, that she wilted in the sun.
Tournament leader Angela Stanford has never actually seen Inkster at the gym, but wouldn’t dare second-guess her conditioning. When asked about the heat, Inkster mentioned her U.S. Women’s Open victory in sultry Mississippi … in 1999.
“I think she wants to beat everybody so bad that, you know, she just doesn’t realize that it’s 110 (degrees) and she’s 49,” Stanford said. “At 49, I hope to be sitting in my rocking chair in Texas.”
On top of being a tremendous competitor, Inkster is one of the game’s great quotes. She’s blunt, funny, informed.
When asked how she’s able to cope with all that comes with the aging process, she had this to say (with a smile):
“I don’t think I give a crap as much. You know, I don’t take it home with me like I used to. I don’t live and die with every shot. … I’m just trying to enjoy the moment.”
While pleased with her putting, Inkster struggled with some of her approach shots, pointing to a swirling wind and new grooves as part of the problem. New irons and new shafts have left her hitting her three-quarter shots as far as the full ones. With uncertainty comes apprehension, and almost always, a poor shot.
Inkster doesn’t feel 50. The travel gets tough sometimes, but she’s in good shape. She points to her father, a fireman, for her tireless work ethic. Success never came easy.
When Inkster walked out of the media room, she used Pat Hurst’s phone to call home. In the mornings, Skype connects her with her two daughters and husband.
Stanford says Inkster is the most competitive person she has ever met. For the 31-time tour winner to walk away, and stay away, she’ll need a distraction.
“I would love to coach a high school golf team,” she said.
If only every junior girl could be so lucky.