Captain Fun: Juli Inkster steers Team USA to fabulous Solheim Cup run

LPGA: The Solheim Cup Thomas J. Russo/USA TODAY Sports

Captain Fun: Juli Inkster steers Team USA to fabulous Solheim Cup run

LPGA Tour

Captain Fun: Juli Inkster steers Team USA to fabulous Solheim Cup run

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa – When Bruno Mars came on over the loud speaker, Juli Inkster began to break it down. Her go-to song is “Chunky,” and the U.S. captain made sure it was on the Solheim Cup playlist for the first tee.

Inkster, 57, boogied with the likes of Paula Creamer, Sophie Gustafson and Helen Alfredsson. Nancy Lopez gave Inkster a love tap to the beat of a Justin Timberlake song with one of those “Get Loud” paddles. Inkster tried to get jiggy with Cristie Kerr, but got an “I can’t dance” after about three seconds.

Inkster can’t either really, but that doesn’t stop her. Eldest daughter Hayley said they’ve worked on mom’s moves over the years, and she’s shown modest improvement. A glass of wine or a vodka tonic certainly helps.

“We had nowhere to go but up,” Hayley said.

Inkster made camp on the first tee at the Solheim Cup and had a blast. She projected the looseness and confidence she expected out of her charges.

It’s easy for Inkster to get players to follow her lead. Most of them have idolized her more than half their lives. For American players, Inkster represents the ideal blend of career and family. Though few, if any, will ever match her standard.

She’s the ultimate players’ captain.

“Juli is my role model and the reason I play golf,” said Creamer, who carried Inkster’s bag down the 18th hole of a practice round when she played in the 2003 Junior Solheim Cup. Two years later they were partners in the main event.

“It’s a life goal, to be able to play for Juli,” Solheim Cup rookie Danielle Kang said.

Brian Inkster stood on the edge of the tee box Saturday at the and watched his wife soak up what could be the final hours of her captaincy. (There’s always a chance she’ll get asked back for an unprecedented third term.)

Tears welled up in Brian’s eyes as he talked about the respect players show his wife.

Why do they all want to play for Juli?

“She’s so down to earth,” Brian said. “She’s goofy. She makes so many mistakes. She spills food on her shirt. At the gala this week she didn’t realize she had to give a speech until she sat down for dinner.”

Haley, 27, is happy to share her mom with a dozen tour players. She marvels at the way Mom can connect with anyone.

“Throw her in any situation and she’ll work it out,” Haley said.

When Stacy Lewis was down after Friday’s morning session, Brian said his wife went to Lewis’ father for advice.

“Juli got in her face and said ‘Get your chin up, walk faster, you’re dragging Gerina down,’ ” Brian said. “She said walk like you want to win this thing.”

Then he teared up again because it worked, and he’s proud.

Inkster is a pacer. She doesn’t like a lot people around her when she’s watching golf. Doesn’t like many people in her cart.

“I like everybody away,” she said.

Because while she preached fun to her players, the seven-time major winner couldn’t help but live and die with each shot.

Like this from Friday’s press conference: “They hit the green on 17, and the other team missed the green and they ended up making par and we three-putt and I’m, like, ‘Oh my God, are you kidding me?’ ”

The relatable and reliable Inkster became the first U.S. captain in Solheim history to lead two teams to victory. Angela Stanford played for Inkster in 2015 but watched this year’s competition from her home in Texas. More than anything, she wanted one last dance with Inkster.

“My college golf coach said everybody is replaceable,” Stanford said. “I don’t think we’re going to be able to replace Juli.”

No one is prepared for the day when Inkster stops competing. She’s everybody’s favorite mom. She’s a wisecracking superwoman with a stain on her shirt.

“We grew up watching her dancing around the green, winning majors and playing in Solheim Cups,” Brittany Lang said. “So she was our hero.”

Still is.

(Note: This story appeared in the Aug. 21, 2017 issue of Golfweek.)

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