At 54 Inkster’s a Legend — but she’ll still have LPGA presence

WEST POINT, MS. – Juli Inkster’s biggest year in a stellar golf career came in 1999 when she won the U.S. Women’s Open, the LPGA Championship and three other tournaments while also qualifying for the Hall of Fame.

There’s nothing wrong with looking back fondly on a year like that 15 years later, and Inkster had no better place to do it than Old Waverly Golf Club. That’s where she won the first of her two U.S. Women’s Opens and the fourth of her seven major championships.

Her win at Old Waverly came by a whopping five-stroke margin, but she hadn’t been back since then until this week. The reason she’s back now is to make her debut on the LPGA Legends Tour. That circuit, for players who have reached their 45th birthday, holds its premier team event, the ISPS Handa Cup, on Saturday and Sunday.

“It’s always great to come back to fond memories,’’ said Inkster from a spot overlooking the 18th green. “When they invited me to play I was ecstatic to come back.’’

She played the course in Friday’s Blue Cross Blue Shield of Mississippi Pro-Am and will be part of the best ball and alternate shot team matches on Saturday in partnership with Meg Mallon and a singles match on Sunday. She hopes to help the U.S. team regain the Handa Cup from the World team – the winner for the first time last year at Hermitage in Nashville, Tenn.

“There’ll be some good golf played, and a lot of laughs,’’ said Inkster. “We’re playing the course shorter (than in 1999) but the routing is still the same. It’s amazing how many holes you remember and how many you don’t remember.’’

Now 54, Inkster is winding down her career on the main LPGA circuit but is hardly in retirement mode despite owning 31 LPGA titles and earning more than $13 million on the circuit.

“I’m the Solheim Cup captain for 2015, so that’s going to keep me busy,’’ she said. “I’m doing a little TV (broadcasting), too, so that’s going to keep me busy. Plus, I’ll probably play 10 (LPGA tournaments). I like to keep at it and watch the girls for the Solheim. I’m in a perfect place in my life right now.’’

Inkster has played in 12 LPGA tournaments this year with one still to go. In between she was a TV reporter during the International Crown – the new global team event that made its debut at Caves Valley in Maryland. It’s the biggest new thing in the sport, for men or women on any tour.

“It went great,’’ said Inkster, “but it needs a little tweaking. Picking three players (for each qualifying team) in March was a little early. Maybe pick two of them in March and then a wild card later. But overall the event was a big success.’’

She’s also hopeful a U.S. Women’s Senior Open is on the horizon. The U.S. Golf Assn. is considering it.

“They should do it. I don’t know why they haven’t,’’ said Inkster. “At least they’re talking, and I hope it comes to fruition.’’