COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Under the shade of two tall pine trees just behind the grandstands at the 18th tee is a wall that carries the names of a handful of players to have found U.S. Golf Association glory at The Broadmoor. Among those few distinguished names, which includes Annika Sorenstam and Jack Nicklaus, is that of one player in the U.S. Women’s Open field this week: Juli Inkster.
Inkster, 51, is inevitably asked to recall her 1982 U.S. Women’s Amateur win here, the third of three consecutive Women’s Amateur titles she won before turning professional the following year. That title was won at The Broadmoor’s Mountain Course – this week’s tournament will be staged on the East – but mountain golf is mountain golf. And Inkster knows how to play that game. It’s all about consistent ball-striking, fairways and greens.
“You know, I grew up on greens like this,” she said. “A little bit of poa, very undulated greens. It’s all about speed and distance control.”
Paula Creamer won the U.S. Women’s Open on July 11.
Betsy King of Reading, Pa. struggles to stand after teeing up her ball on the fifth hole during the third round at the US Women’s Open Saturday July 22, 2000 in Gurnee, Ill. King injured her back on the second tee, but finished the round 10-over-par for the day.
Michael Jordan enjoys a laugh with Michelle McGann during a three hole exhibition at the US Women’s Open Tuesday July 18, 2000 in Libertyville, Ill. McGann and Laura Davies defeated Jordan and Nancy Lopez.
Karrie Webb, of Queensland, Australia, holds the U.S. Women’s Open trophy after winning the event Sunday July 23, 2000 in Gurnee, Ill. Webb finished at 6-under 282, five strokes ahead of everyone else.
Brenda Corrie Kuehn takes a drink as she waits to hit her tee shot on the second hole at Pine Needles Lodge and GC in Southern Pines, N.C., Tuesday May 29, 2001, during practice for the U.S. Women’s Open. Kuehn wore men’s golf shirts and carried 25 extra pounds in the eighth month of her pregnancy. But she expected a normal golf experience for the U.S. Women’s Open.
Morgan Pressel, 13, chips to the third green at Pine Needles Lodge and GCi n Southern Pines, N.C., Thursday, May 31, 2001 during the first round of the U.S. Women’s Open golf championship.
Karrie Webb, of Australia, celebrates her victory at the Pine Needles Lodge and GC in Southern Pines, N.C., Sunday June 3, 2001, on the 18th hole after winning the U.S. Women’s Open.
Karrie Webb, of Australia, holds the trophy at the Pine Needles Lodge and GC in Southern Pines, N.C., Sunday June 3, 2001 after winning the U.S. Women’s Open.
Patty Sheehan, left, puts her arm around Nancy Lopez as Lopez waves to the gallery on the 18th hole of the Prairie Dunes course during the second round of the U.S. Women’s Open, Friday, July 5, 2002, in Hutchinson, Kan.
Karrie Webb throws her club in the air and kicks it on the 14th fairway Friday afternoon, July 5, 2002, during the second round of the U.S. Women’s Open at Prairie Dunes in Hutchinson, Kan. Webb, the two-time defending champion, missed the cut with a two-round total of 12-over-par 152.
Annika Sorenstam celebrates her birdie on the 16th green in the third round of the U.S. Women’s Open on Saturday, July 6, 2002, at Prairie Dunes Country Club in Hutchinson, Kan. Sorenstam shot a 1-under-par 69 and was leading the tournament by two strokes.
Juli Inkster celebrates after making a birdie on the 16th hole of the Prairie Dunes CC course during the final round of the U.S. Women’s Open, Sunday, July 7, 2002, in Hutchinson, Kan. Inkster won the tournament with a four-under-par 276.
Michelle Wie, 13-years-old from Honolulu, Hawaii, watches her tee shot on 16 during the first round of the U.S. Women’s Open at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club in North Plains, Ore., Thursday, July 3, 2003.
“I’ll probably sleep with an ice bag on. I’m afraid to take the tape off – my thumb is going to explode out of it. But the more I think about making pars, the less the thumb bothers me.”
– Paula Creamer on the pain in her thumb after the third round of the U.S. Women’s Open at Oakmont. She led by 3 strokes heading into the final round. Above, Creamer Creamer hugs her caddie, Colin Cann, after winning the tournament.
Nancy Lopez reacts as she barely misses a birdie putt on the fourth hole during the second round at the US Women’s Open, Friday, July 21, 2000, in Gurnee, Ill.
Much has changed for Inkster in the nearly 30 years since she won that title, but nothing dims the memory nor diminishes the accomplishment. She says she was hungrier then than now, but this is the same player who has three top 10s in 10 starts so far this year, and is No. 9 in Solheim Cup points.
“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,” she said.
When Inkster speaks, it’s done thoughtfully. She talks of LPGA past and present with downcast eyes, searching for the right insight on something she’s been an integral part of for nearly 30 years. Today’s tour is certainly more worldwide, more corporate than the golf “sorority” of yesteryear, and filled with players like Yani Tseng, whom Inkster calls fearless.
“I’m glad I’m not starting my career, I’m glad I’m where I am at right now,” she said. “But, you know, I think raising a family now would be a lot tougher than raising a family back then, because we used to just throw everything in a car or a van and take off.”
Hang around Inkster too long and you’ll catch many an age joke. She carried a swing aid to the podium for her Tuesday afternoon press conference and referred to it as her cane. Told that she and Karrie Webb were the only active players with more major titles than 22-year-old Tseng, she laughed that perhaps Tseng would retire before catching her.
In a field that includes 25 amateurs, it’s easy to see why Inkster makes those jokes, but the two-time U.S. Women’s Open champion and three-time U.S. Women’s Amateur champion is nothing short of spry on the golf course. She played a practice nine in trendy flat-soled shoes Tuesday, drawing frequent requests for autographs and repeated cheers as she joked with gallery members and fellow players Wendy Ward, Pat Hurst and Karrie Webb.
“I enjoy the game,” she said of her ability to remain competitive through the years. “You know, I think if you have a passion for what you do, to me it’s not really work. To me … it just pecks away at me, because it seems like you can never conquer it.”