COLORADO Springs, Colo. – This marks Juli Inkster’s 31st U.S. Women’s Open. (Not to belabor the age thing, but the event is in its 66th year.) Inkster has hinted at retirement for several years, but the reality is the 51-year-old can’t tear herself away from the competition.
Inkster opened with a 3-over 74 Thursday at The Broadmoor, where she won her second of three U.S. Women’s Amateurs in 1981. The Amateur was held over the Mountain Course, and while this week’s Open is on the East Course, Inkster cracked that she remembered the buffet line well.
On Thursday, play was suspended at 12:47 p.m. local time due to lightning in the area and called for the day at 3:11. Inkster was grateful to finish her round just after the horn blew. Kristy McPherson has the clubhouse lead at 2-over 73. Cristie Kerr (thru 15) and amateur Amy Anderson (thru 12) are atop the leaderboard at 2 under.
Inkster’s name won’t be mentioned among the favorites this week, as least in terms of those who might win. But her name does come up frequently in Solheim Cup conversations. At Rich Harvest Farms in 2009, Inkster announced that she had played in her final Solheim Cup. Rosie Jones made her an assistant captain for 2011 in Ireland. Inkster insisted she would not pull double-duty as both player and coach.
Perhaps that decision is what freed her up to play well this season. She’s currently ninth on the U.S. Solheim Cup points list. The top 10 automatically qualify. Inkster told Jones she’d make a decision soon about whether or not she’d play. They had dinner two weeks ago during the Wegmans LPGA Championship and went over all the scenarios.
One thing is certain: The players want her hitting shots, not just calling them.
“I think you need to take your 12 best players,” said Paula Creamer, Inkster’s Solheim partner. “I know she doesn’t want to go back on her word, but at the same time we’re a team.”
Angela Stanford took it a little further, saying that if Inkster makes it on points and decides not to play, “I know about nine other girls that will tell her we’re not playing.”
“I’m making sure she plays,” McPherson said. “She may be feisty, but I can take her down.”
Europe’s Laura Davies said it would be a “tragedy” if Inkster didn’t play.
Inkster noted that if she’s going to commit to play in the Solheim Cup, she needs to be mentally prepared. It’s the most emotionally-charged event on the LPGA schedule, and Inkster has played in enough (eight Cups) to know what it takes.
Jones encouraged players to give Inkster some space as she contemplates. Whatever psyche she’s had this year has worked so far. She has three top-10 finishes in 10 events and missed one cut at the ShopRite LPGA Classic. She’s currently 21st on the money list.
Players behind Inkster in Solheim Cup points: 10.) Christina Kim; 11.) Kristy McPherson; 12.) Vicky Hurst; 13.) Katie Futcher; 14.) Wendy Ward; 15.) Pat Hurst.
The Safeway Classic in Portland, Ore., Aug. 19-21 marks the cutoff for U.S. points. Inkster also didn’t rule out allowing Jones to pick her if she slipped outside the top 10. Jones gets two picks.
Inkster called The Broadmoor a “grinding golf course,” which should suit her style. While admittedly hungrier when she first won at The Broadmoor three decades ago, Inkster likes where her game is right now.
“I think my game is so much better than it’s been the last couple years,” said Inkster, who has missed three of the last four U.S. Women’s Open cuts.
“I just feel like if I get everything under control, I feel I have a shot.”
Wouldn’t that be special.