Inkster joins major leagues

LPGA victor completes career Grand Slam

June 28, 1999|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

WILMINGTON, Del. -- By the time she reached her ball on the 18th green at DuPont Country Club yesterday, Juli Inkster was playing a different game than anyone else in the McDonald's LPGA Championship.

The 20-footer she was facing for birdie on the par-4 finishing hole seemed almost like a tap-in to Inkster. "It was like I was putting into a bucket," she said later. "I just knew it was going to go in."

If the last putt put an exclamation point on Inkster's four-shot victory and four-round total of 16-under-par 268, the last three holes made a statement about the kind of player the 39-year-old mother of two has become.

Inkster turned a tense final round in a major championship into a runaway, making an eagle and two birdies to close out a 6-under 65 and pull away from both Liselotte Neumann of Sweden and Nancy Scranton.

It was Inkster's fourth major championship and her second in three weeks, after a five-shot victory in the U.S. Women's Open, and completed a career Grand Slam. It also put Inkster into exclusive company.

With the victory, Inkster joins Hall of Famers Pat Bradley, Mickey Wright and Louise Suggs as the only players in LPGA history to win all four majors.

"It was her destiny," said Meg Mallon, who played with Inkster yesterday. "What Juli did was incredible. We don't get credit for anything. This is an important day for women's golf. To watch someone make history is neat."

Don't expect anything complex from Inkster, who opened her Academy Awards-like victory speech by telling the crowd, "Winner, winner, chicken dinner." Though she thanked everybody but Ronald McDonald, Inkster was left a bit shocked at what she had done.

"I can't explain 16, 17 and 18," said Inkster, who came to the 16th tied with Neumann and Scranton at 12-under. "To make the putt [a 20-footer on 16 for eagle] was electrifying. The crowd was going crazy. I was going crazy. Then I got to 17 and realized I had to hit my tee shot."

Her 8-iron on the 156-yard par-3 stopped within five feet of the cup, and one thought came into Inkster's head. "I didn't want to miss it and look like a chump," she recalled. "I wanted to keep the momentum going."

It was Inkster's dominating kick that stopped Neumann and Scranton from making a run of their own.

Neumann, looking for her first major title since the 1988 Women's Open at Baltimore Country Club, had climbed to 12-under with a birdie on the par-5 16th. But she made pars on both 17 and 18 to finish second after a round of 3-under 68.

Scranton, trying to complete a comeback from reconstructive shoulder surgery three years ago, also got to 12-under with a birdie on the par-3 13th hole. But she, too, could get no further, making bogey on the par-3 17th hole to wind up tied for third with Mardi Lunn of Australia.

"I saw [Inkster] making putts all day," said Scranton, who was playing behind her in the final twosome with Christie Kerr, who stayed at 10-under with an even-par 71.

Though visibly tired early in the round, Inkster showed her resolve throughout.

With a 20-foot birdie on the par-3 eighth hole and a 15-footer for birdie on the par-4 ninth, Inkster briefly took a two-shot lead that Scranton chopped to one with her own birdie on the ninth.

Even when Inkster's shots were off, she found a way to save herself -- and par. She converted nine one-putt greens over the last 12 holes. She dropped in a 12-footer from the fringe for par on the par-3 13th and a 10-footer for par on the par-4 14th.

"Those three par putts won the tournament," she said.

Yesterday's victory, her fourth this year and 21st overall, was worth $210,000 and vaulted Inkster over Karrie Webb to No. 1 on the money list with $952,994. Webb missed the cut here.

It also put Inkster on the brink of qualifying for the LPGA's Hall of Fame. Because of the newly implemented point system, Inkster is one point shy of the 27 needed to qualify. Inkster could get that point if she beats out Webb for Player of the Year.

"I distinctly remember sitting at a players' meeting at the first tournament of the year, and they were saying they're changing the criterion," Inkster said. "I'm slowly counting up my points and I'm thinking, `I'm seven points away, that's out of my reach.' Now I'm only one. I'd love to win a golf tournament to get in."

By then, Inkster might perfect her victory march up the 18th fairway or her celebration on the green. It could be the only weakness in her game. Remembering how she rushed down the 18th fairway at Old Waverly, Inkster decided to take things a little more slowly yesterday.

"I was going to work on my saunter," she said.

Then there's the dance she did after the final putt went in. It was sort of reminiscent of the shimmy she did after making a big putt at the last Solheim Cup. While 9-year-old Hayley has been trying to help her mom with her steps, husband Brian Inkster laughed as he watched his wife.

"She can't dance," he said.

But she can play. And she can cook. Yesterday morning, Inkster made a French toast breakfast for about 11, including seven kids, at the house where her family stayed last week. She also did the dishes. Then she went off to play the round of her life.

"It was great French toast," she said.

And even better golf.

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