Inkster turns back clock at Swinging Skirts 

click to enlarge Juli Inkster follows her drive from the fifth tee of the Lake Merced Golf Club during the first round of the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic golf tournament. - ERIC RISBERG/AP
  • Eric Risberg/AP
  • Juli Inkster follows her drive from the fifth tee of the Lake Merced Golf Club during the first round of the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic golf tournament.
DALY CITY — The beauty of the game. That’s how Juli Inkster phrased it at Lake Merced Golf Club on Thursday. She wasn’t talking about those who play women’s golf, although that would not have been inappropriate, but of the nature of the sport.

That she at 54 can be competitive against ladies who are the age of her daughters.

“Or much younger,” Inkster said. “Yeah, they’re a lot younger. My daughters are 25 and 21. Out here, that’s a seasoned veteran.”

A description which in truth fits Los Altos’ Inkster, a two-time U.S. Open winner, who after a first-round 4-under par 68 in the first round of the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic was behind defending champ Lydia Ko. Who today has a birthday, her 18th.

Not only is Ko, as Inkster said, a “lot younger” than her daughters, but also a lot younger than the tournament’s main attraction, Stanford grad Michelle Wie, 25. Off her game Thursday, Wie shot a 3-over 75.

Said Inkster: “I mean age matters in a lot of things, as far as how your body feels and how far you can hit the ball and how much time you can put in it. But you can still go out there and compete at 54.

The difference between, say, Inkster and Wie is not only in strokes or years but expectations.

Inkster, nee Juli Simpson, grew up in Santa Cruz, gaining plaudits along the way as she won the San Francisco City Championship and at San Jose State became an All-American. Her recognition was earned.

Wie was the protege who almost became tragedy. At 14, on her home course in Honolulu, Wie was given an exemption into a PGA Tour event, the 2004 Sony Open. She nearly made the cut.

After that, there was no escape and virtually no success. She was more curiosity than contestant, although she could knock balls 300 yards off the tee. Wie kept getting into events, but for so long didn’t get results out of them.

Tennis and golf, without team loyalty, need personalities, in the United States particularly, American personalities. Tiger Woods was the man, and maybe Jordan Spieth will be the man. Michelle Wie was supposed to be the woman.

Now, even with the ascendance of Ko, who is from New Zealand, Wie, as obvious from the newspaper ads and billboards promoting the Swinging Skirts, is the woman. Finally.

That U.S. Open win last summer was a certification. The wait had ended for Wie, for the LPGA.

The breakthrough came in November 2009, three years before her Stanford graduation. Wie won her first tournament as a pro, the Lorena Ochoa Invitational. Longtime LPGA star Christie Kerr told Golfweek it was “The shot heard ’round the world. I truly believe [Michelle] can elevate the tour.”

The main thing is, she stopped trying. Wie allowed her talent to take over. It’s a story heard from athletes in every sport. They relax and play as they once did, for themselves, not for others.

“Every week this year,” Wie said a few days ago, “I feel my game is getting better. And that’s exactly what I want to do, improve a little bit each and every week.”

On Thursday, the improvement wasn’t evident, but that’s the nature of golf. A bad swing here, a missed putt there, and suddenly you’re in hole from which you can’t extricate yourself. Until the next round.

“I didn’t play very well today,” a glum Wie conceded after signing a few autographs for waiting fans. “I’ll play well tomorrow.”

The assurance is well-grounded. A major championship on a résumé proves anything is attainable.

“You know,” she said about the 2014 U.S. Open triumph, “my life has changed, and it hasn’t changed. I think it definitely helped boost my confidence. I think I’m a lot more confident player now than I ever have been.

“It’s just nice to know I can do it. It’s definitely very motivating. Now that I did it once, you get a taste for it and you want to do it again and again. So you feel very motivated.”

Juli Inkster understands. She’s done it again and again and is very motivated. And at 54, twice as old as Wie, very competitive. That’s the beauty of the game.

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com. Email him at typoes@aol.com.

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Art Spander

Art Spander

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Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.bleacherreport.com. Email him at typoes@aol.com.
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Sunday, Apr 22, 2018

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