If only she could kick the ball

January 31, 2009

Brandi Chastain scored the winning goal for the U.S. in the 1999 Women's World Cup Soccer Final at the Rose Bowl in front of 90,000 screaming fans and has thrown out the first pitch at sold-out Yankee Stadium. None of that will prepare her playing in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am for the first time.

The gritty Chastain welcomes the challenge.

"It won't help me physically to hit the ball, but it's helpful just having the internal ability to slow down and take that breath," she said at a pre-tournament media day.

The 40-year-old Chastain, who plays to a handicap of 14, joins a short list of women who have been invited to participate in the event, including Nancy Lopez and Juli Inkster. Inkster played three times as an amateur and never made the pro-am cut. Her advice to Chastain?

"Get a lot of strokes," she said.

"She's a good, little player and very competitive," said Inkster, who has played with Chastain. "She can hit it. She's inconsistent, but she doesn't get shortchanged. She's going to do a lot better in a golf tournament than I would in a soccer tournament."

As a youngster, Chastain used to attend the Bing Crosby Pro-Am with her parents and grandfather, the late Cal Lillge of San Jose, who helped her with her game.

"I loved being with him," she said. "Golf was our bond."

Aside from playing well at Pebble Beach, Chastain feels a responsibility to "engage the crowd. I really want them to enjoy my group."

Inkster has no doubts they will. "She'll be a great asset to the tournament," Inkster said.

Errant shots aside, Chastain plans to treasure the experience. "People lining up along the ropes is the scariest thing," she said. "I have a good voice, so I can yell, 'Fore!' very loud."

-- Mark Soltau