She felt sorry for this aging veteran who seemed to be hanging on.
“We were in Tucson, and Juli’s about 41,” Gulbis said. “I just asked her, `Why are you still out here playing? You have a family. You have kids.’ I was young, and I asked her something stupid that she still likes to give me a hard time about. I asked her if she was having financial problems and needed to keep playing.”
Inkster laughed that day and put her arm around the rookie’s shoulder.
“I’m doing fine financially,” Inkster told Gulbis. “I just love to compete. Why are you asking? Do you want to loan me some money?”
Inkster reminded all her peers on her 50th birthday why she’s still playing. She shot a 1-under-par 71 in the opening round of the LPGA Championship to move into contention to become the oldest winner of an LPGA event and oldest man or woman to win a major championship.
In her 28th season on tour, in her 591st career LPGA start, Inkster still loves to compete.
You could see it at the final hole Thursday at Locust Hill Country Club, when she almost chunked a long pitch and left it 25 feet short of the flagstick. She thumped the divot with her club, then swiped the air in disgust. She led this championship earlier in the day but dropped two shots over the final six holes. After bogeying the last hole, she marched to the driving range to work on her swing.
Inkster, mother to 20- and 16-year-old daughters, said she doesn’t feel old as she pursues her 32nd LPGA victory and eighth major championship title.
“I remember when my dad was 50,” Inkster said. “I thought he was old. I asked my kids, `Is 50 old?’ They said, `Well, yeah, mom, but you don’t act 50.
“Maybe I’m fooling myself. Maybe I’m trying to fool myself. I don’t know, but I feel like I’m in good shape. I don’t have any aches or pains.”
If Inkster can win at 50, she will add to her Hall of Fame career by surpassing Beth Daniel (46) as the oldest winner of an LPGA event, Fay Crocker (45) as the oldest winner of an LPGA major and Julius Boros (48) as the oldest man or woman to win a major.
And she still believes she can win.
“I definitely think I’ve mellowed a lot,” Inkster said. “I used to take golf home and stew. I don’t do any of that anymore. But when I tee it up, I still believe I can win. If I don’t, it’s not the end of the world. I just like to compete. I like to see how good I can be at this age.”
Asked what she thought watching Tom Watson nearly win the British Open at 60 last summer, Inkster’s eyes lighted up.
While she stopped short of comparing herself to the eight-time major champion, you could tell she sees a kindred spirit.
“I’m nowhere near a Tom Watson, but he plays for the love of the game,” Inkster said. “He doesn’t need to play. He plays because he likes to compete. He plays because he likes to hit shots. He just plays because he loves the game.'
Inkster listened to admiring fans sing “Happy Birthday” to her before her opening shot. They sang again when she reached the ninth green and yet again at the 18th green.
Competing isn’t all that keeps Inkster feeling young. So does so being around young players.
“Juli always wants to be new and on the edge and hip,” Gulbis said.
A group of players took Inkster out to an Italian restaurant near the course Monday night to celebrate her birthday. Gulbis, Morgan Pressel and Paula Creamer were among them. They’re all young enough to be Inkster’s daughters.
Knowing how much Inkster likes to be hip, they chipped in to buy her the new iPad.
“I like gadgets,” Inkster said. “I do have to admit I need a little help with it. Morgan is going to help me with my iPad because I couldn’t even get the thing going.
“I really think having two young daughters, just raising them, they’ve really kept me young. We do a lot of fun stuff together. They love to shop. They love to shop for me. I don’t really go to a store anymore. They just pick out clothes and bring them home and tell me to put them on. I listen to all their music just because that’s what is playing.
“I have to say, they’ve helped a great deal in keeping me young.”
So have all the young players Inkster competes against and still yearns to beat.