Inkster Charges Back With Magical Round
To Win Womenís Open
By Ken Klavon, USGA
|In her most emotional moment, Juli Inkster
celebrates her birdie on No. 16. (Associated Press)
Hutchinson, Kan. Ė Prairie Dunes has been kind to Juli Inkster,
and she appreciates it.
For the second time in 22 years, Inkster won a USGA championship
on the fabled Hutchinson course, securing the 2002 U.S. Womenís
Open Sunday and the $535,000 first prize that goes along with
"Almost 20 years ago I was standing here holding the U.S.
[Womenís] Amateur trophy. Now Iím holding the Womenís Open trophy. I have to
buy a house or a condo here," said the 42-year-old Inkster, who won the
1980 Womenís Amateur here as Juli Simpson Inkster. Simpson was her maiden name.
In a final round that surely didnít lack emotion, or drama,
Inkster charged past Sorenstam with a 4-under-par 66 for an
overall 4-under 276 to beat Sorenstam by two strokes. They were
the only two players under par for the championship. In the
process, Inkster tied a Womenís Open record for lowest score
by a champion in a final round, held by Pat Bradley (1980) and
It was sweet reversal for Inkster. Last week, at the ShopRite
LPGA Classic, it was Sorenstam who overcame Inksterís three-shot lead on the
final day to win the 54-hole tournament.
"You guys were probably betting money that Annika would win.
Thatís a tough position to be in," said Inkster of Sorenstamís lead.
Said Sorenstam: "She really outplayed me. I gave it my all.
Ö I think in a major championship a lead is never comfortable."
Inkster became the second-oldest Womenís Open champion, only behind
Mildred Didrickson "Babe" Zaharias. She is the first female player
past 40 to win since Fay Crocker in 1955. The last American to win was Inkster
in 1999 at Old Waverly.
As she made the walk up No. 18, she twirled her visor to the galleryís
chants of ĎU.S.A! U.S.A!í. When she dropped in the final putt for par, Inkster
hugged her caddie, playing partner Shani Waugh and met husband Brian Inkster
for a long embrace. "There was so much adrenaline there," said Inkster.
Inkster couldnít celebrate entirely because Sorenstam (three birdies
and three bogeys), playing in the final group after beginning Sunday with a
two-stroke advantage, still had to complete the final hole two shots behind.
When Sorenstamís approach missed the hole wide left an eagle, an ecstatic Inkster
punched in her parentís number on a cell phone.
"That was unreal," said a tearful Brian Inkster, who
also serves as her golf instructor. "I had never seen her play better than
today. That was pure guts."
Indeed it was.
Coming into Sunday, Inkster had been unsure about her swing
and said a low round under par would be needed to
|Julie Inkster after sinking the winning
putt on 18. (Pam Murphy/USGA)
topple the normally unswerving Sorenstam. This past week, Inkster
stayed in contention mostly because of her short iron game.
She wasnít hitting many fairways Ė just a tad over 60 percent
through three rounds.
If she were to win, sheíd have to drive the ball more accurately.
Fifteen minutes before teeing off Sunday, Inkster discovered something
on the range that made her feel comfortable. On her last dozen balls, "something
clicked." It clicked so well that she nailed 86 percent of the fairways,
setting up each of her five birdies.
"I found my swing," she said, drawing a laugh. "It
made the day a lot easier. Under the pressure, I did everything well today."
Inkster pulled within a stroke with a birdie on the second hole.
"When she birdied the second hole, the look on her face;
I knew Annika would have to shoot under par," said Waugh, who shot 2-over
72 and 3 over for the championship.
Four holes later, on No. 6, a 372-yard par 4 dogleg left, Inkster
tied Sorenstam. Landing in the first cut of rough off her drive, Inkster grabbed
a pitching wedge and came up 65 short, right of the hole off the green. No problem.
Not getting under the ball too much, her chip hit once and broke right and came
back Ė until falling in line and disappearing into the hole.
She pumped her right fist. A phoenix was rising.
"Itís a shot hole that youíre thinking you donít get too
many chances for birdie, so youíre thinking birdie, and when I hit it in the
rough, now Iím thinking par," said Inkster. "It was huge. Any time
you make a birdie itís huge, but to make birdie from the rough, it was huge."
After trading birdies on No. 7 to remain tied, Sorenstam blinked
first. At 412-yard par-4 8th, Sorenstamís approach landed well short,
to the side of the elevated green. She got up and down, but two-putted from
12 feet to card a bogey.
The lead was Inksterís and she would never relinquish it.
Inkster fell to 4 under when she drained a downhill 8-footer on
No. 11. She casually pumped her fist.
On No. 12, Sorenstam and Jill McGill (8-over 78) were put on the clock for
play. It was an extra element to battle.
"Itís always a little bit extra tension when you got an
official right behind your back counting your seconds when youíre
trying to think about the wind and your shots," said Sorenstam.
After using a 5 iron to drive well left of the 175-yard par-3
15th, only inches away from a plastic wire covering, Inkster was
aware Sorenstam was putting on No. 14, which could be seen from a distance.
Waugh saw Sorenstam hit for birdie but displayed little emotion, believing it
would have disrupted Inksterís concentration.
Instead of collapsing, Inkster chipped 11 feet past the hole and
knocked in the putt to a "Whew!" and animated right fist pump. Even
if it was only for par, it was a critical moment in the championship.
"I didnít know Annika birdied 14," said Inkster. "I
figured I needed to hit for par to keep the lead."
The next sequence of events all but secured the title. Sorenstam,
on No. 15, again had to get up and down to save par. This time her ball had
a horrible lie. But she chipped up and the ball rested 3 feet from the hole.
Then she missed the putt to fall back to 2 under.
"I figured, ĎI got four more holes, I can birdie all four
and I need some help,í" said Sorenstam.
In the meantime, Inksterís approach with a 7 iron stopped 21 feet
short of the left-centered flagstick on No. 16. Surveying the line several times,
she tapped it in to go 5 under. Once the ball dropped, she gave four hard right
fist pumps, adding more authority to each one.
"Sheís a world-class fist-pumper," said Waugh. "She
kept apologizing to me. She kept apologizing for inciting the crowd after her
chip on 6."
"It was electrifying," said Inkster, who took just 25
putts in each of the last two rounds.
Taking a last stab, Sorenstam birdied No. 17 to get to within
two. By then, it was too late.
Annika Sorenstam on the 18th green.(Pam
"I think I made one bad swing, and that was at 16,"
said Sorenstam, of an 8 iron
chip that led to a two-putt for bogey and knocked her back
to 1 under. "I told my caddie, ĎThat was a tired swing.í"
Nearly an hour after turning in her card, Inkster was left
to reflect on the importance of the championship. She won the
Womenís Amateur three years in a row, from 1980-1982. Ten years
later she would lose a heartbreaking playoff to Patty Sheehan
by one stroke in the 1992 Womenís Open. It wasnít until 1999
she would know what winning would feel like.
For the LPGA Hall of Famer, picking one over another is difficult
"Itís hard to believe 22 years has passed, but I would still
say probably my greatest accomplishment is winning those three U.S. Amateurs
in a row because itís so hard to do," said Inkster. "As far as overall,
I would say [this Open victory] is up there. As far as the pressure and the
conditions and what was at stake, I would say itís probably No. 1. It is right
Ken Klavon is the USGA Web Editor. E-mail him at email@example.com.