Juli Inkster is almost as proud of her daytime job as a Hall of Fame golfer as she is of her fulltime job as a mother of two girls, Hayley and Cori.
Inkster’s achievements as an amateur alone are almost deserving of placement in the World Golf Hall of Fame. She learned the game at Pasatiempo G.C. in Northern California, where she practiced before and after school every day. Like many of the juniors her age she applied for a job at the golf course to gain extra playing privileges and started out parking carts and picking up range balls before graduating to being the “shop girl.” That’s where she met her future husband, Brian, a pro who recognized Juli’s untapped potential.
Inkster captured three U.S. Women’s Amateur titles between 1980-1982. “When I look back at it now I don’t know how in the world I won three in a row because in match play you get somebody hot and you’re out of there,” said Inkster. “It’s probably my best accomplishment as a golfer, either professional or amateur.” Before turning pro, she also won the 1981 California Amateur, represented the United States on the Curtis Cup team in 1982 and was a collegiate All-American at San Jose State four years.
Inkster graduated to the LPGA Tour in 1983 and won her first title in only her fifth start. She became the first LPGA rookie to win two major championships in one season-the 1984 Nabisco Dinah Shore and the du Maurier Classic. Suddenly, she was the brightest young star in women’s golf.
Inkster was a consistent winner during the 1980s, winning four times in 1986 and collecting her second Dinah Shore title in 1989. In 1992, she lost out on a third Dinah Shore title to Dottie Pepper in sudden death and the U.S. Women’s Open, the one trophy she desperately wanted, to Patty Sheehan in an 18-hole playoff.
“There's nothing better than winning at home. I can't imagine anything worse than losing at home, and we don't plan on doing that.”
From 1993 until 1997, Inkster didn’t win a tournament as she adjusted to juggling a career and a family. Inkster had averaged two wins a year until 1990 when her first daughter, Hayley, was born. To become a top-level athlete, she says, “You have to be a little selfish. Until I had kids, for almost my whole life my whole day was being Juli Inkster. It was about me. And then that all changed. There were a lot of times when I was running around with my head cut off, feeling like I wasn’t putting 100% into my kids and not 100% into my golf. That’s not how it was, but that’s how I felt. It was tough to find a balance, and in the mid-1990s my golf had to take a back seat.”
Juli Inkster was the top-ranked amateur from 1981-82.
But that all changed in the late 1990s, Inkster said. “My daughters know they are loved. My husband and I have made a stable home for them. Maybe there are some soccer games I don’t get to, but then in the winter, I can coach Hayley’s basketball team. I’ve come to a peace that I can’t be there all the time but I can give them what they need. When I understood that, my golf game got better. I don’t take every game as life and death. I’ve just matured, I guess.”
Inkster’s game rebounded with wins in 1997 and 1998. In 1999, the change in the LPGA Hall of Fame requirements, which put her only seven points shy of qualifying, gave a jolt to her game. “Even though I felt it was easier, I felt like it was still out of reach,” she said.
A rejuvenated Inkster provided one of the most memorable seasons in LPGA Tour history in 1999. She won five times, including finally winning that elusive U.S. Women’s Open. After achieving that lifelong goal, three weeks later she won the LPGA Championship to become only the fourth woman to win the career Grand Slam. The final point to qualify for the Hall of Fame came at the Safeway Championship, where she received a champagne shower from her fellow competitors after holing the final putt. “Not in my wildest dreams did I think this would happen to me,” Inkster said of earning her place alongside Mickey Wright, Arnold Palmer and all the other greats in golf in the Hall of Fame. “Even when the criteria were changed, I felt I still was a thousand miles away. It’s hard to believe that I got seven points in one year.”