Golfers Who Give BackDecember 4, 2017

Juli Inkster dishes on the Solheim Cup, pangs for Rwanda and why rules-breakers need to be stopped—now

Juli Inkster
Walter Iooss Jr.

We’re proud of what golf does for charity, and for the sixth year, Golf Digest is celebrating Golfers Who Give Back, partnering with the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and Monterey Peninsula Foundation. Our joint committee has selected world surf champion Kelly Slater, country-music artist Clay Walker and World Golf Hall of Famer Juli Inkster as this year’s Golfers Who Give Back.

No individual golfer gave more than Arnold Palmer, and each of the three honorees will receive The Arnie Award, Golf Digest’s highest honor, at the AT&T in February. The Arnie is a trophy-size version of a Palmer bronze sculpture created by artist Zenos Frudakis. As part of the Golfers Who Give Back program, Golf Digest will donate a total of $100,000 to MPF and Arnie’s Army Charitable Foundation.


It’s the 1998 Solheim Cup, and I’m playing with Dottie Pepper in the opening alternate-shot match against Laura Davies and Trish Johnson. In team events, Dottie played with a passion that came across as Dottie against the world. The golf course and her opponents were fair game, and on this day I’m not so sure she even liked me. On the first hole, Dottie hits first and finds the fairway. Laura then cranks one as only Laura can, a blast that goes 60 yards past Dottie. This really annoys Dottie. She marches off the tee with all kinds of defiance. When we get to our ball, I can’t help but needle her. I said, “Sorry to ask, but did you even take off the headcover for this puny thing?” Oh, did she get mad. She barks, “What do you mean? It’s right down the middle! Just hit it on the green!” I cracked up laughing. We won the hole and the match, which is a good thing. If we’d lost, Dottie might still be mad at me.

● ● ●

What it came down to was, Dottie hated losing. A lot of good players are like that, though they don’t always show it. I won seven majors and 31 tournaments on the LPGA Tour, and I don’t think there was one where the thrill wasn’t gone by the middle of the day on Monday. Losing, though, is different. The tough losses stayed with me, sometimes forever.

● ● ●

The best example of that is the 1992 U.S. Women’s Open at Oakmont. With two holes to play, I led Patty Sheehan by two. She birdied the 17th hole, which cut my lead to one. On 18, I drove it right down the middle, and Patty drove into the rough. We had just come out of a rain delay, and not only was the rough tall, it was wet. But then Patty called over a rules official. I was a good distance away and watched the official give Patty a drop that put her in the fairway. She’d been granted relief from casual water, which didn’t strike me as possible because she was on a sideslope and any water would have flowed away. I don’t mind saying that rules officials in that period were weak. They were too permissive. Years later, that official told me that if she had it to do over, she wouldn’t have granted relief. Patty hit a great shot onto the green and made birdie to my par, and we tied. In the 18-hole playoff the next day, she beat me by two. I still think about it. It still burns me up.

● ● ●

I’ll be honest: If the Solheim Cup were the Americans against an International side, they’d slaughter us. Of course they’d beat the Europeans easily, too. An A team of Asian players alone would trounce either team, their B team would win handily, and their C team would be very competitive. So what do we do about that? Although I think the Solheim Cup should be left alone, the Presidents Cup is a different story. I’d love to see a 12-player, mixed-team, round-robin event. It would be no-brainer, must-watch TV. Who wouldn’t watch Jordan Spieth and Lexi Thompson playing an intense alternate shot against Jason Day and Lydia Ko?

● ● ●

We’ve got to get the mixed-team events back. I played in a lot of the old JC Penney Classics with Tom Purtzer and won one with him, in 1986. Tom has this incredibly rhythmic swing that rubs off on you. The trouble was, the JC Penney was always played in December. By the time January and the new season rolled around, the good rhythm I got from watching him had worn off. I was like, “Where are you when I need you?”

● ● ●

Cristie Kerr and Angela Stanford are different people. They never got along particularly well. At the last Solheim Cup, an interesting thing happened. On the bus, Cristie got up and asked for everyone’s attention. She’d chosen one of her inspirational quotes she wanted everyone to hear. I can’t remember it—my crappy memory—but it was a little bit out there. But then Angela got up and explained her interpretation of what the quote meant. Cristie listened intently, and next thing you know, she and Angela are hanging out, talking, still different people but totally bonding, and better off for it. Team golf—team sports in general—strips off the armor. It brings out an empathy that just isn’t there when you’re playing individually.

Stuart Franklin

Inkster's passion for golf and the Solheim Cup was on full display last August when she captained the victorious American side

● ● ●

More than ever, there’s a Venus-Mars difference between how men and women play golf. Women are more cautious because hitting into a fairway bunker with a high lip is a bigger problem than for Dustin Johnson. We’re more careful, swing in a more controlled way. A couple of months ago, I played with Tony Finau in the Berenberg Gary Player Invitational in New York. Some of his drives flew so far they almost went out of sight, but they weren’t very straight. I think he hit two fairways. I teased Tony: “You’re in the junk again, buddy.” With this big smile he said, “If I have a swing, I have a shot.” And it was true. Tall rough, trees he had to bend the ball around, it didn’t matter. He just tore the ball onto the green from everywhere. If I drove it into the places Tony did that day, I’d shoot a million. It’s not easy being from Venus.

● ● ●

There are exceptions to every rule. Lexi Thompson and Suzann Pettersen are more Mars-like. I’ve seen Lexi take divots a foot long, and she swings with a violence that tells you she doesn’t mind breaking things. She has a kick-ass “hit” mentality that is rare for a woman. Suzann has that, too. They’re different from, say, Ariya Jutanugarn, who hits the ball just as far, but without the violence.

● ● ●

In 2007, Betsy King put together a mission trip to Rwanda under the charity she founded called Golf Fore Africa. The goal was to raise awareness of the poverty and health issues the Rwandan people face every day, and to help where we could. Ten of us made the trip, including my daughters, Hayley and Cori, who at the time were 17 and 13. We were there for 10 days, and what we saw changed our perspective on how fortunate we are to live in America, and the importance of trying to give back. We saw children who didn’t just admire the clean water in our bottles, they admired the bottles. The people there walk for miles just to retrieve clean drinking water. Little things, like our passing out candy, meant the world to them. What made the biggest impression on me—Hayley and Cori, too, I think—was the happiness of the children. How they seemed to be so content while having so little. It was uplifting and heartbreaking at the same time. My daughters and I came back as slightly different people. Whenever I see a half-full water bottle, I feel a slight pang. I think about Rwanda.

● ● ●

Golf is unique among all sports for what it does for charity on an almost daily basis. There are the big LPGA Tour and PGA Tour events, which over the years have contributed hundreds of millions of dollars. But then there are the thousands of smaller golf tournaments at everyday clubs every week. The sum of it has to be incredible. I think it’s human nature to wonder how you can help. Just buying a ticket to a tour event does something, but you might consider volunteering at a tour event, or manning the sign-up table at one of those small Monday tournaments. Or buying a couple of extra raffle tickets. Or best, making a donation at a website such as golfforeafrica.org. I’ve always thought it’s cool how when you give something through golf, the game repays you by making you feel good inside. The feeling is tax-free, too.

● ● ●

Annika Sorenstam has been retired for going on 10 years now, so for those who didn’t see her, I’ll tell you what her golf was like. She was the only player who, when she hit, your eyes immediately darted to a little window above the flagstick. That’s rare for anyone, man or woman. Her ball flight was dead straight, which is also very rare because every player tends to favor a fade or draw. Her iron shots had no flutter to them, never seemed to drift or fall off. When Annika was on, playing against her could be very discouraging. You felt this pressure to make birdies because you knew she wasn’t going to miss shots.

● ● ●

The best ball-striker I saw in my career, though, was Karrie Webb. At her best, when she hit, the sound of the club meeting the ball was unique. It was the kind of sound that makes serious golfers turn their heads. Watching her hit balls, a made-up word came to mind: “flushness.” Her ball would really hiss when it took off and penetrated the air so well.

RELATED: Golfers Who Give Back—Clay Walker

● ● ●

My advice to young players: Stop stretching so much. Something tells me this constant stretching in the gym to elongate muscles and become more flexible is causing injuries rather than preventing them. I don’t think the body is designed for muscles to be stretched that far. It gives players a false sense they can push the envelope, swing longer and harder. I have no proof, except that I never stretched except during my normal warm-up. In 35 years, I’ve had only one injury, a torn tendon in my right elbow.

● ● ●

I didn’t take up golf until I was 15. My dad, Jack Simpson, was a hack golfer but knew enough to show me a sound interlocking grip, and I sort of took it from there. I played constantly, before and after school, then went to basketball practice. I was just a jock, someone who was good at any game with a ball. In summer, I would lap Pasatiempo all day long. I played a lot with Grant Rogers, who now is the director of instruction at Bandon Dunes. He gave me a lot of little tips. I was a good athlete and got good at golf very fast. I made the boys’ high school varsity team, then earned a scholarship to San Jose State. Beginning in 1980, I won three straight U.S. Women’s Amateurs. Then in 1984, my first full season on the LPGA Tour, I won two majors. Looking back, I just expected to win, and it happened. I don’t think I knew how hard golf could be.

● ● ●

Like I say, I worked at it. Pasatiempo didn’t have a very good practice range, but on days I didn’t play, I’d hit balls literally all day long. I’d practice in the morning, get something to eat, then, in the afternoon, the real work began. I’d go onto the range with a transistor radio—which I still have, by the way—tune to the San Francisco Giants game and hit balls from the pre-game show until it went off the air. I just loved being by myself, figuring out my swing and grooving it. Always trying to get better.

● ● ●

As kids, we’d go into the canyons at Pasatiempo and look for golf balls. It was an easy walk from our home near the 14th hole, and that’s how we made spending money. We’d sort the balls, put them in egg cartons, set up a lemonade stand and position ourselves so golfers would run into us. I still remember what we charged for them. A new Titleist, Maxfli or Hogan balata with no cuts, 35 cents. A new Top-Flite or Molitor—they were real durable—25 cents. A good Golden Ram, Flying Lady, Kro-Flite or nicer brands, but scuffed, 15 cents.

PAUL BUCK

Inkster celebrates her birdie putt on the 16th hole during the final round of the U.S. Women's Open at Prairie Dunes Country Club, her second Open victory.

● ● ●

Thinking more on my dad, he was this amazing athlete. I’d always taken for granted how effortlessly he’d field balls when he coached my brothers at Little League, how he taught kids how to hit with these incredible demonstrations. Just last year, my mom brought out a scrapbook and showed me his history. It was incredible. He’d been a star quarterback at Van Nuys High School, which was a huge school and producer of tremendous athletes, including Don Drysdale, who got to the Baseball Hall of Fame. My dad loved baseball and reached Triple-A in the Cincinnati Reds organization. He played shortstop and had a ton of promise but was derailed by pneumonia and then an injury. The moral of that is, talk to your parents. Learn their histories. You might be amazed what you find out.

● ● ●

There are movies we all wish we were characters in, right? Nothing could be better than to be Jennifer Grey in “Dirty Dancing.” To be twirled around in a dance scene by Patrick Swayze, I mean, come on. I still watch that movie. I still get up and dance, with zero embarrassment. There’s a line from the character Johnny that applies to how I’ve run my whole life: “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.”

● ● ●

Like most tournaments these days, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship provides everything, including the little things like snacks, water and a variety of drinks on every tee. In 2015, I was walking down the second hole with a young player—can’t remember who it was; that’s how bad my memory is getting—and she says. “What did you do before there was bottled water?” I told her how in the early 1980s they’d take a hose and fill 18 insulated water coolers and set them on the tee next to a stack of Dixie Cups. “Hose water?” she said. “Eww.” I told her how we used rotary phones to call and get our tee times. The crummy range balls, how greens were slow and covered with ball marks. Then I told her about persimmon woods and balata balls. I said, “But you know, in a lot of ways it was better.” She looked at me like I was a thousand years old.

RELATED: Golfers Who Give Back—Kelly Slater

● ● ●

I still feel the LPGA Tour deserves more attention than it’s getting. There are several reasons, starting with the media. Why was the Golf Channel not broadcasting the Solheim Cup all week the way it was at the Presidents Cup? Why aren’t more women on the covers of Golf Digest? I also have a hunch that male CEOs are more inclined to want to tell their buddies they played in a pro-am with Jordan Spieth than with, say, Juli Inkster. I think, too, that if more of them had daughters who were fans of the LPGA, it would actually result in more tournaments on our tour getting sponsorships. Last, PGA Tour players aren’t very quick to promote the women’s game. They’re wrapped up in their own product, which is understandable, except that it isn’t good for the overall health of the game. When the media, CEOs and men’s tour players begin taking a longer view, that’s when you’ll see the LPGA Tour explode.

● ● ●

On the LPGA Tour, there’s what we call “white line” yardage. Say the course is listed at 6,600 yards. That comes from an actual white line marked on the tees. During the tournament, the tees will be at the white line or a little ahead, so the distance is shorter than 6,600 yards. Men’s tour, same thing—the daily yardage is less than the 7,500 yards measured from the tips. My feeling is, the LPGA should play even farther forward from the white lines, especially on the par 5s. You’ve probably noticed that men play very few three-shot par 5s. They’re nearly all reachable in two. They make a ton of eagles, which is thrilling for their fans. Meanwhile, the LPGA seems hung up on the idea of three-shot par 5s. One official told me, “If the par 5s are reachable in two, the group in the fairway has to wait.” I’m not sure I get that, because playing three shots at a normal pace would seem to take longer than two. Anything the LPGA officials can do to make it more fun to watch, they should go for it.

● ● ●

There’s a trend on the pro tours of players not taking the Rules of Golf as seriously as they should. I’m talking about obvious fudging on placing and replacing the ball; taking more than a club-length when lift, clean and place is in effect. I saw a so-called practice swing awhile back that was unmistakably a whiff. There’s never an excuse for not putting the integrity of the game first. The rules are complicated, I get that. But they are sacred. There are some attitudes out there that need to change, right now.

● ● ●

One day a few years ago I asked my caddie for my ball, and he said, “It’s in your hand.” I asked for my glove, and he said, “You’re wearing it.” I noticed I usually was last to get to the next tee, when I used to be first. My focus, which always was stronger than my ball-striking, short game and putting, had started to deteriorate. There was mental scar tissue and bad mojo. I’d played the same courses for years and started thinking about what could happen if I missed that slick, downhill three-footer. I couldn’t get that stuff out of my head. That’s when I decided to cut back to about 10 tournaments a year. But I’m not done. I’m 57, but if everything went right, who’s to say I couldn’t win?


WATCH: GOLF DIGEST VIDEOS