The Champ Is Emotional But Shes Just Juli

By George WhiteJuly 8, 2002, 4:00 pm
Juli Inkster was obviously out of control. She couldnt help it. Her emotions were running on overdrive, and after every birdie, she balled up her hand into a fist, swung her arm, and well, emoted. Then, after every such demonstration, she turned to her playing partner and apologized.
Her playing partner was Shani Waugh. Waugh knows that Inkster isnt a rub-it-in-your-face type. So she just laughed, realizing the energy that must be flowing through this woman Juli Inkster who was making a Sunday charge at the U.S. Womens Open.
Yeah, shes a world champion fist-pumper, Waugh said. She kept apologizing to me for her first pumps, and I was just getting a lesson. Im going to go home and practice a few myself.
Inkster is as energetic, as full of life, as any 42-year-old on the planet. She whooped and danced and laughed. She grimaced when the putts didnt go in. She was ecstatic when they did. She was playing exceptional golf, but more than that, she was having a great time.
I can see how she won so many tournaments, Waugh said. I think for a normal tournament she gets pretty pumped up, and today I wish I had half her intensity. I think I might be a better player.
Inkster couldnt help it. She shot a 66 on a very difficult course, and that was four shots better than the No. 1 player in the world. She won by a couple. You think she wasnt stoked?
And, of course, it was the Fourth of July weekend. It was apple pie, mom and a teenage girl cruising in a 10-year-old car on a Saturday night. Annika Sorenstam, the world No. 1, is a wonderful player. Se Ri Pak is enormously gifted. Karrie Webb can be awfully impressive. All three live in the States now after having spent childhoods around the globe. But this was the July 4th, and it was about a gal from California who was feeling as patriotic red-white-and-blue as a golfer can be, having just won this countrys national Open.
Its great, said Inkster. I am very much an American, and you know, Americans havent won the U.S. Open in awhile To be able to walk up 18 and them (the gallery) chanting, USA, USA ' that was pretty impressive.
After winning the McDonalds LPGA Championship in 1999, she talked about how difficult it is to be so wired up. Feelings run high for her, she was saying. She would like to remain on a steady line, she thinks it is an advantage to be more like the unflappable Sorenstam, but doggone it, she just cant.
I dont know ' I play with emotion, said Inkster. What you see is what you get.
I think the hardest thing for me is to stay calm, because Im kind of a fiery player, an aggressive player. I get down on myself. I just kind of learned to maybe stay a little more even-keeled out there, but I think Ive learned to enjoy it more, you know? Im enjoying it more.
Inkster is that kind of woman. She wears her emotions out where you can see them, and the other women on the LPGA love it. Waugh had a front-row seat, and what she was seeing made her a little jealous at the talent she was seeing.
It had everything, she said. She played great, she putted great, her passion for the game and for this tournament gave me a lesson today, and I found myself rooting for her. The passion she showed for the game at this tournament ' I really wanted her to win. . Anyone who shows that much passion deserves to win.
Frenetic Juli was about settled down by now. She loves golf, loves hubby, loves the children, and loves being the U.S. Womens Open champion. July 4th made her realize all over again just how lucky she is.
You know what? I think I just appreciate what I have out here, Inkster said. I think I appreciate the opportunity to play golf and to make a living and to do what I love to do.
If I would have done this in my rookie year or my first three, four years out here, I wouldnt have appreciated it the way I appreciate it now. Its like when I won two majors in my rookie year. They were just tournaments to me.
I think I dont put as much emphasis on my golf game as I used to. Believe me, I am very competitive out there. But if I dont play good, at least I work hard. I do the best that I can, and I go home.
For one wonderful day, she was the queen bee. Her best was good enough. When she went home, she might have been just Juli. But on this day, she was The Champ.
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Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.

"The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."

He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).

Click here for full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship

Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

“Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."

Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.