Old vs New at First LPGA Major

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RANCHO MIRAGE, Cal. - Womens golf is all about the new breed ' think Paula Creamer, Natalie Gulbis, Michelle Wie, Morgan Pressel, Lorena Ochoa, Christina Kim and any one of a dozen impressive young Asian players. All are under 25 and all have incredibly bright futures in the game.
 
But as the youngsters begin preparation for the Kraft Nabisco Championship this week ' the first major of the season - the older ladies are watching intently. In fact, one won the last LPGA tournament ' the Safeway International. At 45-year-old Juli Inkster isnt ready to concede the stage to the youngsters just yet. She herself has an 11-year-old daughter and a 15-year-old daughter. Fifteen is nearly the age of some of the girls she must try to beat each week.
 
Inksters win was her 31st, the first coming way back in 1983. She knows the young women coming up are the new guard, the ones who will replace her and Meg Mallon and Beth Daniel and, yes, even Annika Sorenstam in the LPGA penthouse one day. But shes just not quite ready to step down, not as long as she can win as impressively as she did at the Safeway.
 
All I know is I'm glad I'm at the tail end of my career and not just starting, Inkster said. It's a different era.
 
When I was growing up, we played a lot of golf but we just kind of played. Now all of these girls have coaches 24/7, they have video equipment, they have all the modern technology, everybody does stuff, and they all just have beautiful swings, no little hitches in their giddy yups. You know, they are born to play golf.
 
Juli Inkster and Morgan Pressel
Juli Inkster and her protg pose with Lost star Terry O'Quinn at last month's SBS Open.
Inkster has a special relationship with one of the young women - Morgan Pressel. The LPGA has a big sister program whereby the rookies are assigned one of the older players to make the transition to the big time a little easier. Inkster has been charged with Pressels future.
 
The rookies, though, are extremely young, starting with Pressel, whos only 17 years of age.
 
Probably half of them don't even know who I am, said Inkster, laughing. Probably none of them - but that's OK, I know I did it.
 
They all know, of course, who Juli Inkster is. She won this Kraft Nabisco tournament in 1989. And should they forget momentarily, Juli has her way of reminding them.
 
I put them in their place; tell them to clean my shoes,' Inkster said, laughing again.
 
Inksters pal Mallon is 42 now and has been around since 1987. Mallon is awed by the era she is living in now, watching the young ones do such impressive things on the golf course.
 
It's actually been fantastic, says Mallon. This is my 19th year on tour and it's probably been one of the most fun years as far as watching how the tour has developed. A lot of great young players have come up that not only have game but have personalities, a lot of drive and passion for the tour. That's just kind of carrying over to everybody else.

It's really been enjoyable this year to see players like Natalie Gulbis, Christina Kim - I can't name them all off the top of my head. But certainly it's been a fun presence out here. You'll see it this week. You'll see the energy on that golf course. It's really put an energy and a lift into our tour.
 
The kiddie brigade actually brings a certain energy to their older sisters that Inkster and Mallon both have experienced. And, both have benefited by it.
 
It's great. I love it, said Inkster. I enjoy competing with the best players. It's good to see the young players coming up and playing well. You know, it's incredible how golf has just gotten so huge. These girls, some of them are my daughter's age and others are 18, 19, 20 and out here playing.

But I'm glad I'm at the tail end and not starting, that's for sure. I enjoy what I do and I love to play.
 
Forty-six-year-old Rosie Jones looked at the young crop last year and was herself extremely impressed.
 
There's just so many great players, she said. There's just lots of great players out here, and the modern great players are our younger players right now that have a lot of responsibility to take this Tour to its new heights.
 
Part of it is playing great, part of it is taking the responsibility as professionals and doing the other part, to go there. And hopefully, they're going to be there to do that.
 
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