PINEHURST, North Carolina — At 53, Juli Inkster is golf royalty. She won 31 LPGA titles. She captured seven major championships. She is a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame. She is playing this week in her 35th and last U.S. Women’s Open. No other golfer has accumulated so many Women’s Open appearances.
Furthermore, when the queen of women’s golf descends from her throne, she mingles easily and comfortably with ordinary golfers. With Inkster, there are no pretensions. She doesn’t hide anything. She tells the truth. She is blunt and forthright. She is refreshing.
Surveying the women’s golf landscape on Wednesday, Inkster talked about her first appearance in the U.S. Women’s Open. She was 18.
"All I remember," she said, "is they had brand new Titleists on the range. I’d hit one, then 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. I remember everything as pristine. I’d never seen anything like it."
How many famous golfers would talk about stealing golf balls from the range? Not many, but that’s Juli Inkster.
Asked whether women or men complain more on the golf course, she said they were "equally bitchy" and laughed about her answer.
Inkster is not a complainer. Never has been.
Under her maiden name of Juli Simpson, she was a three-time U.S. Women’s Amateur champion. When she turned pro in 1983, she was expected immediately to become a dominant player on the LPGA Tour.
And then she failed in her first attempt to qualify for the Tour. Did she complain? No, she just worked more diligently on her golf game.
Her first LPGA victory came that same year, 1983, in the Safeco Classic. In 1984, she claimed her first two majors, the Kraft Nabisco Championship and the du Maurier Classic.
She was widely seen as the No. 1 contender to Nancy Lopez. Inkster would win two U.S. Women’s Open titles (1999 and 2002), while Lopez finished her career as the female version of Phil Mickelson — Mickelson has six runner-up finishes and no victories in the national championship, Lopez accumulated four runner-up finishes in the Women’s Open without a win.
Inkster, looking ahead to expanding her role as a Golf Channel commentator, said she would be happy with a top-15 finish this week. No delusions here.
Talking about the evolution of women’s golf and why she is ready to embark on a new career, she explained, "It’s more of a job (today). This is no lie: In the 80s, you could throw a bomb on Monday and no one was here. Now everybody’s here on Sunday, and everybody is playing, practicing on Monday, and it’s a grind."
In March, Inkster was named U.S. Solheim Cup captain for 2015. She is firmly in touch with a younger generation of players, but that didn’t stop her from referring to 11-year-old prodigy Lucy Li as "Lucy Lu" in a press conference.
Well, nobody’s perfect.
Inkster was thrilled with the U.S. Women’s Open Champions’ Dinner at Pinehurst Resort on Tuesday evening. She was one of 11 former winners in attendance.
"Just to be in a room and say you’re a U.S. Open champion," she mused. "Like (basketball player) Charles Barkley never won a title and I’m sure he regrets that. I can leave this game with no regrets."