PINEHURST, N.C. (AP) — Juli Inkster made the cut in her first U.S. Women’s Open when she was an 18-year-old amateur. She finished 10 shots behind Hollis Stacy. JoAnne Carner was a runner-up. That was in 1978, back when Willie McCovey was still playing first base for the San Francisco Giants.
Inkster is playing the Women’s Open for the 35th time this week, and the 53-year-old from the Bay Area said Wednesday it probably will be her last.
“I’m not playing much,” Inkster said. “I think I’m only going to play a couple more this year. And next year I’ll probably just play like six tournaments, too. This is probably my last one.”
A moment of sadness? Not quite.
“Shoot, I’ve played in 35 of these, so that’s pretty impressive,” Inkster said, a two-time Open champion and Hall of Fame member. “I love where I am right now. I look at the young girls out there and I’m like, `Wow. I’m so glad I’m not starting.’ So I’ve really enjoyed golf. I’ve really enjoyed the competition. I love playing. I’ve got a lot of new stuff, Solheim stuff, and doing a little TV commentating. I’m still going to be out here and be busy. But I’m definitely not going to play as much.”
Inkster hasn’t won in nearly eight years, and she last made the cut in the Women’s Open in 2009. She qualified this year at No. 69 on the LPGA Tour money list from last season. The top 70 are exempt from qualifying.
She won her first Women’s Open at Old Waverly in 1999 – and then captured the career Grand Slam a few weeks later at the LPGA Championship. But her highlight was at Prairie Dunes, when she closed with a 66 to overtake Annika Sorenstam in 2002 at the height of the Swede’s game.
As for the probably?
Go back to Old Waverly, her first Women’s Open. Her daughters were in the first and fifth grades. Inkster spoken then – that was 15 years ago – about slowing down.
“My goal right now is to play on the Solheim Cup in 2000 that’s in Scotland,” she said after her victory. “After that – I said this two years ago that I was going to cut back – but I just really foresee myself playing 10 to 12 tournaments a year.”
She played at least 18 events for 11 years after that Solheim Cup team. She played on six more teams. One daughter is out of college. Another is at Villanova. Inkster loves to compete. She doesn’t like the daily grind of practice, saying golf today is more of a job.
“I’m just glad I’m drinking with my kids instead of putting diapers on them,” she said.
NO HULL: The USGA said it was changing its criteria for the U.S. Women’s Open next year. Instead of the top 25 from the women’s world ranking being exempt from qualifying, the top 50 will get in.
That’s one year too late for Charley Hull of England.
The teenager who starred in the Solheim Cup last year is No. 34 in the world, the same as Bill Haas in the men’s ranking. The U.S. Open takes the top 60 for the men – two weeks before the championship, and the final ranking before the tournament begins.
Special exemptions typically are reserved for past champions, though there have been exceptions. Michelle Wie received a special exemption in 2004 when former USGA executive director said her LPGA earnings – if she had been a pro – would have been enough to qualify.
On the men’s side, the USGA gave an exemption in 2000 at Pebble Beach to 19-year-old Aaron Baddeley.
The only news Hull made Wednesday came from a news release out of the Ladies European Tour. Hull leads the money list in Europe. She is the feature attraction at the Allianz Ladies Slovak Open.
RANGE THIEF: Juli Inkster gets a few bags of golf balls for the practice range, and unlike her U.S. Women’s Open debut in 1978, she hits them all.
That wasn’t the case in Indianapolis.
“All I remember is they had brand new Titleists on the range,” Inkster said. “And I’d hit one and I’d put one in my golf bag. And I’d hit one and I’d put one in my golf bag. I’m sure I was over the 50-pound limit flying home. But I had new golf balls. I remember everything was pristine. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
BACK TO WORK: Mike “Fluff” Cowan had a long walk around Pinehurst No. 2 last week as the caddie for Jim Furyk, who closed with a 67 to tie for 12th.
Cowan is back for more, this time working for Lydia Ko.
“He’s a very experienced guy and also a very nice person,” Ko said.
DAME DAVIES: Juli Inkster isn’t the only player with loads of U.S. Women’s Open experience.
Laura Davies won the Open in 1987 before she even joined the LPGA Tour. This is her 26th appearance dating to 1986, though she has played only once since 2009 as her game began to slide. But the 50-year-old from England – recently anointed a “Dame” in Britain (similar to “Sir” Nick Faldo) – is back after going through qualifying.
“I’ve tried twice before and I missed out both times,” she said. “I didn’t even complete 36 holes. I had a plane to catch and I was about 16 over, and I said, `To hell with this’ and went home the first time. And then did really poorly the second time.”
She said she had about eight three-putts in qualifying but held on to earn a spot. There are no leaderboards in qualifying, so she thought she had blown it.
“An official came up and said, `Congratulations.’ I nearly fell over,” Davies said.