For the second tune in 22 years, Juli Inkster won a USGA championship
on the fabled Prairie Dunes Golf Club course in Hutchinson, Kan.,
securing the 2002 U.S. Women's Open and the $535,000 prize that
goes along with it.
The 42-yearold Inkster won the 1980 Women's Amateur there as Juli
In a final round that didn't lack emotion or drama, Inkster charged
past Annika Sorenstarn with a 4-under-par 66 for an overall 4-under
276 to win by two strokes. They were then only two players under
par for the championship. In the process, Inkster tied a Womens
Open record for lowest score by a champion in a final round, also
held by Pat Bradley (1980) and Sorenstam (1996).
Inkster became the second-coldest Women's Open champion, behind
only Mildred Didrickson "Babe" Zaharias. She is the first female
player over 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 gallery's
chants of ĎU.S.A! USA!'. 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 couldn't 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 Sorenstam s approach missed the hole wide
left, an ecstatic Inkster punched in her parents' number on a cell
Coming into Sunday, Inkster had been unsure about her swing and
said a low round under par would be needed to topple the normally
unswerving Sorenstam. Inkster stayed in contention mostly because
of her short iron game. She wasn't hit ting many fairways -just
a bit more than 60 percent through three rounds.
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.
Inkster pulled within a stroke with a birdie on the second hole.
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 feet short, right
of the hole off the green. Her chip hit once and broke right and
came back- until falling in line and disappearing into the hole.
She pumped her fist.
"It's a short hole on a course where you're thinking you don't
get too many chances for birdie, so you're thinking birdie, and
when I hit it in the rough, now I'm thinking par," said Inkster.
"It was huge. Any time you make a birdie it's huge, but to make
birdie from the rough, it was huge.'
After trading birdies on No. 7 to remain tied, Sorenstam blinked
first. At the 412, yard par-4 8th, Sorenstatn's approach landed
well short of the elevated green. She two-putted from 12 feet to
card a bogey.
The lead was Inkster's and she would never relinquish it. Inkster
went 10 4 under when she drained a downhill 8-footer on No. 11.
After using a 5-iron to hit to a spot well left of the green on
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 make the putt for birdie
but displayed little emotion, believing it would have disrupted
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 didn't know Annika birdied 14," said Inkster. "I figured I needed
to make the putt for par to keep the lead."
The next sequence of events all but secured the title. Sorenstan,
on No. 15, again had to get up and down to save par. This time site
had a horrible lie. But she chipped up to within three feel of the
hole. Then she missed the putt to fall back to 2 under.
In the meantime, Inkster's 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 hall dropped,
she gave four hard right fist pumps, adding more authority to each
"It was electrifying," said Inkster, who tookjust 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.
"I think I made one bad swing, and that was at 16," said Sorenstarn,
of an 8-iron chip that led to a two-putt for bogey and knocked her
back to 1 under. "I told my caddie, `That was a tired swing."'
Nearly an hour after turning in her card, Inkster was left to reflect
on the importance of the championship. She won the U.S. Women's
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 Women's Open. It wasn't until 1999 She would know what
winning the Women's Open would feel like.
For Inkster, picking one over another is difficult to do.
"It's hard to believe 22 years have passed, but I would still say
probably my greatest accomplishment is winning those three U.S.
Womenís Amateurs in a row because itís so hard to do," said
Inkster. "As far as overall, I would say [this Womenís 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