It hasn't been easy, but Inkster adjusts to LPGA tour life after baby

March 31, 1991|By Pat Sullivan | Pat Sullivan,San Francisco Chronicle

LOS ALTOS, Calif. -- You're a professional athlete in your prime, only in your late 20s. In seven years as a tour golfer, you've won 13 tournaments. You've just surpassed $1 million in earnings, and the future seems unlimited.

So what's your next move?

If you're Juli Inkster, one of the top stars on the LPGA Tour, you take time out to have a baby, of course.

"I've always been kind of a rebel, kind of a rouser," says Inkster of her approach to life.

What might have been unthinkable to others the interruption of a highly successful professional athletic career at or near its peak came naturally to Inkster and husband Brian, head professional at Los Altos Golf and Country Club.

In nearly 10 years of marriage, despite Juli's hectic travel schedule, they've never been apart for more than two weeks.

Thus, Inkster left the LPGA Tour in October 1989. On February, 4, 1990, she gave birth to a daughter, Hayley Carole.

So what's your next move?

If you're a highly competitive Inkster, over the six weeks immediately after the birth, you set out to: (1) recover physically, (2) adjust to the new demands of motherhood, (3) whip your golf game into shape and (4) defend your title in the Dinah Shore tournament, the first major of the LPGA season.

End of fantasy. Inkster finished in a tie for 11th in last March's Shore.

"And if I were to do it over, I wouldn't have done it," she said during a recent interview at her mother-in-law's home in Los Altos. "I played well, but I was just beat. My body was just dead."

Inkster had attempted to do with her life what she often has been able to accomplish with her golf rack up multiple triumphs.

But she found out that the Super Mom circuit plays a little differently than the LPGA Tour.

And throughout the remainder of 1990, Inkster, who competed in 18 events, went winless for only the second time in eight seasons.

"I just never really played well," she said. "I finished in the middle of the pack a lot and missed a few cuts. And then, you know, you start to question yourself: 'Can I play and have a child? Can I do both?'

"I was wondering, 'I wonder what Hayley's doing?' And then I'd leave, and she'd cry, and I'd have the working-mother guilt. 'I'm leaving my child, and my mom never left me' and so on. You just have a lot of emotions to deal with."

Juli Inkster began in sports as Juli Simpson of Santa Cruz, Calif.

"I was a cheerleader in seventh grade and hated it," she once said. "I wanted to be out there on the field playing and competing, not on the sidelines bouncing around."

She eventually developed interests in basketball, racquetball, fishing and skiing and became an avid fan of the 49ers, Giants and Warriors.

As a golfer she twice won the San Francisco City Women's

Championship (1979 and '81), and she was a four-year All-American at San Jose State. She crowned her amateur career with back-to-back-to-back victories in the U.S. Women's Amateur 1980-'81-'82.

On the LPGA Tour, Inkster's penchant for claiming certain tournaments as her own has continued. She is a multiple winner of five events: Safeco Classic (1983 and '88); Dinah Shore (1984 and '89); Lady Keystone Open (1985 and '86); Crestar Classic (1988 and '89); and Atlantic City Classic (1986 and '88).

The victory pattern is in keeping with her general approach to the game.

"I've always been the type of player who needs to play," she said. "Once I get my confidence and momentum going, I play well week in and week out. I'm a very streaky player I've always been that way."

Her dilemma since giving birth has been finding a way to get back into that groove. "I really haven't been, quote, 'working on my game' as hard as I'd like to," she said. "I've always worked on my game hard. That's what breeds my confidence.

"When I feel like I haven't put the time and effort into it, I feel like I don't really deserve to play well.

"I've always been a great piddler. I'd just go to the club and chip and putt and hit some balls and work on different shots." (In the early '80s she used to don headphones and practice while listening to music. REO Speedwagon and Huey Lewis & the News were favorites.)

"Now when I go, I get a baby-sitter, then I've got three or four hours. So I go up and chip-putt-hit balls," she said, running the words together. "It's just like I'm always rushing. It's a big adjustment."

Out on the road, things have been just as new. Hayley has jetted across the country with Inkster seven times already, and, with the help of Inkster's mother-in-law and parents, the nuts and bolts of caring for the toddler have become somewhat routine.

"Now I realize Hayley's got it made," Inkster said. "She's got her grandparents out there, she's got me out there, Brian comes out there. I'm with her every day, except for five or six hours. And then when I'm home, I'm with her all the time.

"If I were an eight-to-fiver working mother, I wouldn't be able to spend so much time with her.

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