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Ageless Inkster Still Going Strong

WILMINGTON, Del. -- She is seemingly ageless, this 42-year-old woman who is still the best female golfer in America. Juli Inkster won just two weeks ago at Corning, N.Y., and is the defending U.S. Womens Open champion. On June 24 she will be 43, but she shows no signs of slowing down.
Inkster has two daughters, aged 13 and 9. Her career has been most unusual ' as a young woman she won three U.S. Amateurs, but then in her 30s her golf slipped considerably when she underwent childbirth twice. The rigors of young motherhood meant her game would suffer. But in 1997 she picked up where she left off in 1992, winning victories in multiples. She has 29 wins in all, and 14 of them have come in the second half of her career, after her daughters were born.
This week she is in Wilmington, Del., preparing to play another major, the McDonalds LPGA Championship. She started the year slowly but lately has come alive and has already placed in the top 10 three times. For a woman in her 40s, Inkster still has plenty of victories left. She is a smarter player in her fourth decade, but that may be because she has had to learn better time management.
I definitely have improved my golf swing and I practice more for quality instead of just quantity, she said. Having a family has helped, knowing when I am going to do what.
Also I think Ive learned over time that its a four-day tournament and you dont have to win it on the first hole. I guess Im a little more patient, but I hate to play bad golf. You can see thats what keeps me going.
When Inkster and another 42-year-old, Rosie Jones, won two weeks in a row recently, it was the first American wins in 17 weeks. Inkster sees two possible reasons why ' one, the American system of developing young players has been surpassed in recent years; and, secondly, American youth have so many other sports outlets than just golf.
There are just a lot of good foreign players out there, she said. Our system, or our junior golf program, I dont think is as strong as some of the foreign countries.
I have two kids that are 13 and 9, and they play everything ' they do basketball, softball, dance. And I think in most foreign countries, kids play one sport and thats it. I think our programs are getting a lot better. So hopefully, three or four or five years down the road, well get better.
And there certainly is hope.
'We have a lot of good young American players ' dont get me wrong, cautioned Inkster. Laura Diaz, Heather Bowie are playing well. Wendy Ward is playing well. Kelly Robbins is still up there. But I know they would like to take it to the next level, too. Hopefully, they will start doing that.
But the excellence of the foreign-born players is raising the standard of golf in general. Its happened only in the last 15 years, and each foreign superstar begets even more from the same country.
You look at Liselotte Neumann, she said. She really got the Swedish program going. She influenced Helen Alfredsson. The coverage over in America got back to Sweden, and people started playing. The same thing with Korea and Se Ri Pak, and now youve got all the young Koreans coming up. In Japan, they had Ayako Okamoto, and she influenced the Japanese.
So I think youve got a lot of foreign superstars that have had an enormous influence and these little girls want to play like their heroes.
You know, Annika is ' yeah, shes from Sweden. But she lives now in America and stays in America. She speaks English and a lot of girls can relate to her, whether you are Swedish or American.
Ah, yes, the Annika Factor that is sweeping the world now since the Swede played with the men at Colonial. Sorenstams meteoric rise, though it has been 10 years in the making, has motivated Inkster.
Yeah, I think she pushes me, and I think she pushes everybody, Inkster said. Everybody wants to be the best, challenge the best, or play against the best. I know I do. It pushes me in the morning to want to run or go work out or work on my game, try to compete with them.
You know, its hard. You have lots of interests or other obligations. But you know what? It keeps me having a love of the game, and trying to improve.
And, the paint brush that covers Sorenstam hits everybody equally. People come to see the Swedish star, and wind up fans of the entire LPGA.
The more people who come out and watch us, the more they see the great golf we have out here. Youve got to have one person bring it out, and Annika is bringing those people out, and thats great for us. From her, maybe theyll catch a lot more of us playing golf and watch a lot more of us, how we do it.
I think as long as were getting positive media attention, I think thats great ' whether its Annika or Se Ri or Karrie or whomever. I think its great for our tour.
Related Links
  • Full coverage of the McDonald's LPGA Championship