She would come home on only three cylinders, finishing three shots behind. But its difficult to find much that is different about Juli Inkster from the 24-year-old who became the first to win two major championships in her rookie season; the 39-year-old who won her first U.S. Womens Open in 1999; or the 42-year-old who won the Open for the second time.
Inkster is too polite to brag. But she did say that, I think my record kind of says I havent lost much. Ive got a family now. My priorities are different.
But as far as my golf game, when Im playing well, I feel like I can play with anybody.
Meg Mallon is from the Juli Generation. She saw Inkster when Inkster was a young hotshot on the tour, and she sees her now as she continues to play at a very high level. And Mallon doesnt think Inkster has lost anything. A certain 16-year-old, the 18- and 19-year-olds, the 20-somethings up through 35-year-old Annika Sorenstam ' Mallon doesnt think Juli takes a back seat to anybody.
Shes playing as good as she ever did, Mallon said after Inkster finally finished the tournament Sunday evening. You know, the 36 holes today? She was in as good a condition as anybody out here ' I never was worried about her doing that.
She has always worked hard. Age isnt a factor in golf ' which is fantastic. You can have a 46-year-old and an 18-year-old playing together, and its pretty neat stuff.
A fulltime mom, looking after the needs of two teen-agers and a husband first, then devoting what time is left over to pursue her golf ' Inkster doesnt have the luxury of thinking golf 24 hours a day. And it is pretty neat stuff, as Mallon says, that this part-timer is such an overwhelming success at the career she has had to subvert while she raises the family.
Husband Brian is a golf pro who met Juli when she was just a teen-age kid. He minded the two daughters Sunday while Inkster finished up with pars on 17 and 18. But he isnt so certain that the years didnt finally began to take their toll.
Ive got to think she just ran out of gas, he said. I dont know, its hard to say.
Inkster reluctantly agreed, though she certainly wasnt the only one who was whipped when it was at long last over. In fact, its doubtful if anyone was not affected by the long day which stretched out to almost 11 hours.
Well, you know, you get tired, especially when you do stuff like putt off the green on 9, she said. Its like, How can you do that?
But I felt good all day. I just never got the putter going.
Inkster was referring to a long putt to a hole cut near the edge on No. 9. The ball rolled oh-so-close to the hole, went by, and suddenly picked up speed as it went off the false front of the green. By the time it finally stopped, it was back in the fairway.
Inkster wound up making bogey there, then made bogey at 11. She was still only two shots out of the lead until she hit her approach on the par-5 16th fat and incurred another bogey.
But the Newport Country Club course beat up the contestants Sunday until Inkster wondered if the field would ever get finished.
This mornings round felt like it took forever, said Juli. It took us 2 hours and 45 minutes to play the front side. I thought, God, were never going to get finished.
But come early afternoon, she was still hanging around the lead. And it would stay that way until early evening, when the bogey at 16 took her out of it.
I played great this morning and kind of stumbled coming in, and then played good ' I felt like I was one of the ones to beat coming in there, she said.
So the Hall of Fame player will return to the U.S. Open next year to compete for the 28th time. She is one of only two Americans to have won a tournament this year. Juli isnt just getting older ' shes still getting better.