PINEHURST, N.C. — As youth is taking over women’s golf, Juli Inkster is on the other end of the spectrum. Inkster is playing in her record 35th – and as she announced Wednesday her last – U.S. Women’s Open this week at Pinehurst Resort No. 2.
She isn’t fully retiring but plans to play in just a handful of LPGA tournaments for the remainder of this year and again next year, and will focus more on her recently commenced duties as an on-course reporter for Golf Channel.
“I love where I am right now,” Inkster said. “I look at the young girls out there and I'm like, ‘Wow, I'm so glad I'm not starting.’ So I've really enjoyed golf. I've really enjoyed the competition. I love playing. But I've got a lot of new stuff, Solheim Cup stuff, and doing a little TV commentating. I'm going to still be out here and be busy, but I'm definitely not going to play as much.”
Inkster, who turns 54 Tuesday, has 31 LPGA Tour victories including seven majors, won U.S. Open titles in 1999 and 2002, and holds the tournament record against par of 16-under at Old Waverly Golf Club in West Point, Miss., in 1999. She also won three consecutive U.S. Women’s Amateur titles from 1980-82.
She played her first Open in 1978 as an amateur. “All I remember is they had brand new Titleists on the range,” Inkster recalled. “And I'd hit one and I'd put one in my golf bag. And I'd hit one and I'd put one in my golf bag. I'm sure I was over the 50 pound limit flying home, but I had new golf balls.”
Inkster began her broadcasting career last month and has worked two of five scheduled events this year. “I'm kind of learning on the fly,” she said. “I haven't dropped any F-bombs. I haven't gone viral. So I feel like I've done pretty good for two weeks.”
In eight events this season she has made four cuts with a top finish of 34th while competing against many players a few years younger than her two adult daughters. Her youngest was born in 1994. “I'm just glad I'm drinking with my kids instead of putting diapers on them, that's for sure,” she said.
Girl amongst women
The questions thrown at Lucy Li during her pre-tournament press conference weren’t exactly hard hitting. What has been your coolest moment? What other sports have you played and why do you like golf so much? Do your parents like to play? What’s the happiest you’ve ever been on a golf course? What is the best food you’ve eaten this week? What is your favorite subject in school? Is there anything special you like to do on your birthdays?
But what do you ask an 11-year-old who qualified for the most difficult challenge in women’s golf?
At 11 years and 8 months, Li is the youngest ever open qualifier for the tournament by about 8 months over Lexi Thompson in 2007. Third on that list is Morgan Pressel, who was more than a year older than Li in 2001. Their careers have turned out pretty well, so Li might just have a bright future.
The daughter of a stock trader from Redwood Shores, Calif., actually had some rather profound answers for some questions. On whether she aspires to play professional golf, she said, “Right now it's just play as well as I can and the game's going to take me wherever it's going to take me, so I just really don't care that much.”
On being the youngest ever qualifier, she said, “It's pretty amazing, but I try not to think about it. I'm just another player, just trying to do the best I can.”
On how many hours a day or week she spends practicing, she said, “It depends on my schedule and if I feel like practicing. I go out when I feel like it, so it depends.”
On her expectations this week, she said, “I just want to go out there and have fun and play the best I can and I really don't care about the outcome, it's just I want to have fun and learn. I want to learn a lot from these great players.”
Li said she tends to play better in front of crowds, so she’ll have her opportunity this week.
Li earned medalist honors at her sectional qualifier with an even-par 142 that was seven and eight strokes better than the site’s other two amateur qualifiers, and it wasn’t an aberration. In 2013, she was the youngest qualifier in U.S Women's Amateur history and she also became the youngest player ever to reach match play at the Women's Amateur Public Links. She’ll play in the Women’s Public Links again next month.
This is the first Women’s Open on Pinehurst No. 2, but the USGA and the LPGA’s best are very familiar with the Sandhills area, as this is the fourth U.S. Women’s Open staged in Pinehurst in the past 18 years.
Nearby Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club has hosted Women’s Opens in 1996, 2001 and 2007, producing Annika Sorenstam, Karrie Webb and Cristie Kerr as champions. No other city or region has hosted more U.S. Women’s Opens.
Limited tickets remain for the tournament. Weekly, Four-Pack and One Day tickets may be purchased on-site at any of three Will Call locations. Prices start at $30 for One Day and $85 for packages.
Will Call hours are 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. Each buyer is permitted to purchase up to four tickets for each day. Tickets include general parking and shuttle transportation. Junior tickets are always available at Will Call and all admission gates. Juniors age 12 and younger will be admitted free when accompanied by an adult ticket holder. Tickets for juniors 13-17 are $15 each day and there is a maximum of two junior tickets per one adult ticket holder.
Battling the heat
The USGA has taken several precautionary measures in response to expected temperatures in the mid-90s all week, including a high of 97 Thursday afternoon.
Patrons will receive a voucher for a complimentary bottle of water upon entry, hydration stations have been set up throughout the course, and designated air-conditioned cooling sites and first-aid stations will also be available.