A Pairing Of Old And New
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By Stuart Hall

  Alexis Thompson, chipping on the second hole Sunday, said of Juli Inkster: "I said, 'Wow, she's really good.'" (Hunter Martin/USGA)

Bethlehem, Pa. — Juli Inkster did her homework just in case, while Alexis Thompson knew only that the 49-year-old Inkster was on the LPGA.

“I heard that she had won two U.S. Women's Opens when they announced her on the first tee,” the 14-year-old Thompson said. “I said, ‘Wow, she’s really good.’ ”

Inkster and Thompson were paired for Sunday’s final round at the 64th U.S. Women’s Open at Saucon Valley Country Club’s Old Course, and no other group had an age-gap larger than the 35 years that separated these two players.

While there was no time for chit-chat other than pleasantries for good shots and putts, Inkster said she was prepared to converse with Thompson, who is younger than Inkster’s own daughters, Hayley, 19, and Cori, 15.

“I was all ready … the Jonas Brothers, Miley Cyrus,” Inkster said. “I asked my 15 year old, ‘What can we talk about?' ”

Despite being out of contention and the spotlight, Inkster and Thompson still put on quite a show.

Inkster set a single-digit over par total as her goal, while Thompson wanted to give her father, Scott, who was also her caddie, a sub-par round on his birthday.

Inkster, playing her 27th Women’s Open, rolled in a 50-foot birdie on the 72nd hole to shoot 1-under 70 and finish at 9-over 293. Thompson carded a 2-over 73 to finish at 11-over 295 in her first full Women’s Open after two previous missed cuts.

Though the pair went out at 10:10 a.m., well before the names on the leaderboard, Inkster -- the 1999 and 2002 Women’s Open champion -- and Thompson drew a large and appreciative gallery. They both received warm welcomes walking up the 72nd fairway.

Inkster was impressed with the up-and-comer, but also cannot imagine being on this international stage at such a tender age.

“She’s a really good player,” said Inkster. “She certainly has the talent, and now we’ll see how she progresses and gets further into the game, and see if she still has the passion for it.”

Inkster said she preferred playing basketball, baseball and tagging along with her younger brothers when she was Thompson’s age and didn’t take golf seriously until about age 16.

From there, Inkster, of Los Altos, Calif., went on to become a three-time winner of the U.S. Women’s Amateur, member of the USA Curtis Cup team, LPGA Rookie of the Year, 31-time LPGA winner and seven-time member of the USA Solheim Cup team. Not to mention a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Asked if she gave Thompson any lessons from her storied career, Inkster just laughed.

“I don’t think she wanted any of my wisdom,” she said. “She’s doing fine as she is.”

Thompson, of Coral Springs, Fla., became the youngest qualifier for a Women’s Open two years ago and is the defending U.S. Girls' Junior champion — a title she seeks to win again starting next Monday at Trump National in Bedminster, N.J. Still, she was a little wide-eyed at Inkster’s accomplishments.

“That would be pretty cool,” said Thompson of some day matching Inkster’s feats. “The crowd loves her, she’s a great player. I can’t imagine playing that long, who knows. But that she’s still playing that well, for so long. That’s great.”

Thompson may have gotten more than she bargained for at this U.S. Women’s Open. She got a history lesson, as well.

Stuart Hall is a freelance writer whose stories have previously appeared on www.uswomensopen.com.

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