Juli Inkster might not be easing toward retirement after all.
Count her among Dave Stockton’s growing stable of short-game pupils who’s curious if a rejuvenated putting stroke can bring back the joy to her game. She worked with Stockton for two hours last week in a session at Stockton’s base at Oak Valley Country Club in Beaumont, Calif.
The LPGA Hall of Famer walked away from the U.S. Solheim Cup victory late last summer saying she was going to scale back her schedule this year and that her focus when she did play would be on camaraderie instead of her money-list standing.
Inkster will turn 50 this June, but there’s nothing like putts diving into the hole to make you feel young again. She enters this season wondering if the magic Stockton worked with Phil Mickelson and Michelle Wie might put the hocus pocus back in her game. She is committed to playing the LPGA's two season-opening events in Thailand and Singapore in February and the tour's next two starts as well at LaCosta in Carlsbad, Calif., in March and the Kraft Nabisco in Rancho Mirage, Calif., in April.
“We’ll play it by ear after that,” Inkster said.
Ball striking wasn’t Inkster’s problem last year.
“I struggled with my putter,” she said. “It was my weak spot.”
Inkster earned just one top-10 finish last season, her fewest in 27 years as an LPGA pro. She finished 51st on the money list, her worst showing since she took time off in 1990 to give birth to her first daughter, Hayley. You can trace her frustration last season to a putting stroke that ranked 142nd on tour in putts per round. In her prime, that stroke helped her win seven majors, three consecutive U.S. Women's Amateur titles and earn a reputation as a match-play warrior.
Inkster has made some changes working with Stockton.
“I’ve known Dave forever,” Inkster said. “He’s always watched me. He’s kind of got me back to not being so regimented. He’s got me back to a longer stroke, not so jerky.”
She said Stockton has her less obsessed with mechanics.
“Dave’s a little more about feel, more intuitive,” she said.
If that translates into lower scores this season, Inkster’s goals may change. She might find herself trying to displace Beth Daniel as the oldest LPGA winner. Daniel was 46 when she won the Canadian Women's Open in 2003.
“We’ll see how I’m doing [after the Kraft Nabisco],” Inkster said.