Last week in Atlantic City, Juli Inkster started the final round with a one-stroke lead, three strokes ahead of Annika Sorenstam. Annika ended up holding the trophy. Juli finished three strokes back. Sunday at Prairie Dunes, in the final round of the most prestigious championship in womens golf, Inkster enjoyed a little payback.
For those who know Inkster well, last weeks loss was a sure sign the Hall-of-Famer would win this weeks Open. The 42-year-old hates losing when victory is close hates blowing a lead cant stand wasting potential. Juli is one of the hardest workers on tour. Few practice as much as she.
If she is anything, Juli Inkster is determined; and you could see in her this week at the Open that she was determined to win. Prairie Dunes was the perfect place for Jules to win her second U.S. Womens Open. She won her first of three consecutive Womens Amateur Championships on this very course in 1980.
Inkster opened with a 3-under-par 67 ' good enough to share the first-round lead. Sorenstam, who played with Juli the first two days, was three back.
After Round 2, Sorenstam and Inkster were tied for the lead with Laura Diaz at 1-under par. In Saturdays third round, Juli shot 71 to drop back to even par. Meanwhile, Annika posted her second consecutive 69, her third consecutive round of par or better. The worlds No. 1 player was the only player under par for 54 holes. Sorenstam held a two-stroke lead over Inkster and Jill McGill heading to the final round.
Inkster was, in her estimation, hitting the ball terribly. She said of her two worst rounds of the Open, Basically, Friday and Saturday won me the golf tournament. Saturday evening Juli said she was ecstatic to be in her position, considering how much she was struggling with her game. On Sunday, she proudly assessed her three days of grinding. Its really hard to do, in an Open, when things arent going your way, to hang in there.
Juli hung in there, and it paid off beautifully on Sunday. She got to the practice range about an hour before her tee time. Her husband Brian (a teaching pro himself) and caddy Greg Johnston watched in almost total silence for more than a half-hour as Juli pounded ball after ball.
She had talked to her swing coach, Mike McGetrick, Saturday night on the phone. He told her to make a fuller shoulder turn on her take-away. But she still hadnt found it on the range.
Then, suddenly, just 15 minutes before her Sunday tee time, it happened! Husband Brian coaxed her into that sought-after fuller turn and Juli began striping the ball.
On the course, caddy Greg continued to remind her: Turn. In response, Juli turned red-hot. Her short game remained phenomenal and now her ball-striking was almost as good. She birdied three of the first seven holes. Sorenstams lead was gone on No. 6. And Juli tasted sole possession of the lead for the first time with her birdie on 7. Sorenstam caught her momentarily, but this was Inksters day.
Juli posted a final-round 4-under 66. That tied the course record set two hours earlier by Raquel Carriedo.
Of all the rounds this Hall of Fame golfer has played of all the rounds she had played to win her previous six major championship titles how would she rank this one? As far as the pressure and the conditions and what was at stake, I would say its No. 1.
And, Juli did it while going head-to-head against No. 1. As for Annika, she was as gracious as any runner-up could be in defeat. No, I didnt lose today, Sorenstam said. Juli won.
Annika now has a first-, a second- and a third-place finish in this years three majors. She has every reason to be proud of her performance this week. Its just that Juli played really (well) today. There was nothing I could do about it.
Yes, 42-year-old Juli Inkster proved she still has plenty of her Hall-of-Fame game left in her bones and clubs. I play because I love to play, Juli said.
Most importantly, she proved on Sunday in the Open that she still has a wealth of something special in her heart. I work hard at my game so I can come out here and stay competitive with the Annikas and Karries. Im not going to win every tournament but if I can stay competitive and win my fair share and raise my family, Im ecstatic.