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Inkster Inducted Into Golf's Hall of Fame

Honored: Legacy defined by more than 25 wins, five majors and only the second woman to complete the LPGA's modern Grand Slam.

November 26, 2000|DOUG FERGUSON | ASSOCIATED PRESS

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. — After the fourth ring, the voicemail system on her cell phone kicks in and shows why Juli Inkster is more than just a Hall of Fame golfer.

"Hi! My mom can't come to the phone right now," says the voice, which Inkster later identifies as 10-year-old Hayley. "Please leave a message. Knowing my mom, she'll call you back sooner or later."

All 84 members of the World Golf Hall of Fame have left some kind of legacy. The unbridled charisma of Arnold Palmer. The indomitable will of Jack Nicklaus. The record 88 victories by Kathy Whitworth.

"I want to be remembered as a player who never gave up, who worked hard on her game and had fun with it," Inkster said in the days before her induction. "But mostly, I want to be remembered as a good mom."

Her legacy is defined by more than 25 victories, five major championships and only the second woman to complete the LPGA's modern Grand Slam.

There are ballet recitals, Brownies meetings, softball practice and basketball games. There are snacks to make for Hayley and 6-year-old Cori when they come home from school, dinner to get on the table, homework to check.

"Hayley's homework . . . she's in fifth grade, and I'm barely surviving that," Inkster said.

The tears began to flow as she stood behind the podium at the World Golf Village during the induction ceremony Monday night and tried to get through the last part of her speech, directed at husband Brian, a golf pro in Los Altos, Calif., and her two children.

"The pride of our lives is not the Grand Slam or the trophies," Inkster said. "It's our two daughters. We never thought we could love two people as much as we love them. I want to thank them for letting me be their mother and letting me do what I love to do, and that's play a little golf."

But Inkster did not become the 17th player from the LPGA Tour to qualify for the Hall of Fame because of her meat-loaf recipe.

"I think of her as somebody who hates to lose more than anybody I know," said Dottie Pepper, one of her best friends on the LPGA Tour.

Meg Mallon recalled the time Inkster cold-shanked a 4-iron some 45 yards right of the green at the Sara Lee Classic. As they walked down from the tee box past a meticulous plot of flowers, Inkster took her club and lopped off every bloom.

"She gets to her ball and hits a beautiful pitch to like this," Mallon said, holding her hands about a foot apart. "No one said a word until we got to the next tee box, and finally we go, 'Nice par, Juli.' And everybody just started laughing.

"She loves to win. She's infectious that way."

Then there was the time at the Safeco Classic outside Seattle when Inkster hit a drive that didn't meet her standards. She kicked her visor all the way down the fairway until she got to her ball.

The mother of two has the mother of all tempers.

"I hate playing bad because I know I can play better," Inkster said.

Her last tournament before she took her place in the Hall of Fame was a testament to that. Inkster had a 78 in the first round of the Arch Wireless Championship, the season-ending tournament for the top 30 money-winners.

Instead of going back to her room, Inkster stayed on the practice green until dark.

"I putted like a dog," she said. "It really hurt me to see I was in last place." She came out the next day and shot 66, the low round of the tournament.

That's why Inkster won three straight U.S. Amateur titles before anyone heard of Tiger Woods. That's why she became the first player in LPGA history to win two majors in her rookie season.

She never gave up on a career when she had children, and she never gave up on being a mom when her career was at a crossroads during five winless seasons.

"My mom was always home, always around, same bed every night, snacks when we got home," Inkster said. "It was a big adjustment for me that my life was going to be different. I didn't know how to raise kids. I didn't know if hauling them around the country was the right thing to do. But I learned that as long as they were with me, it didn't matter."

In a glass case at the Hall of Fame are mementos from golf's great players. What might Inkster contribute?

Is it the sand wedge she used for a crucial par save from a fried-egg lie in the bunker in the final round of the U.S. Open? The 5-wood she hit from 232 yards into the 16th green at the LPGA Championship last year that set up an eagle and clinched the Grand Slam?

Inkster thought about it for a second.

"Maybe," she said, "I'll give them my recipe for meat loaf."

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