'Good vibes at Old Waverly': U.S. Open champ returns to course as analyst 20 years after winning title there

 

Juli Inkster stands inside the Fox Sports trailer following the final match in Thursday's round of the 119th U.S. Women's Amateur at Old Waverly Golf Club in West Point. Golfers who won their matches Thursday will advance to the quarterfinals.

Juli Inkster stands inside the Fox Sports trailer following the final match in Thursday's round of the 119th U.S. Women's Amateur at Old Waverly Golf Club in West Point. Golfers who won their matches Thursday will advance to the quarterfinals. Photo by: Jennifer Mosbrucker/Dispatch Staff

 

World Golf Hall of Fame member Juli Inkster, center, watches the tied-up match between Andrea Lee and Alexa Pano Thursday at Old Waverly Club in West Point. In 1999, Inkster won the U.S. Women's Open title when the tournament was housed at Old Waverly Golf Club. Now, she's back at the course to as a commentator for the 119th U.S. Women's Amateur.

World Golf Hall of Fame member Juli Inkster, center, watches the tied-up match between Andrea Lee and Alexa Pano Thursday at Old Waverly Club in West Point. In 1999, Inkster won the U.S. Women's Open title when the tournament was housed at Old Waverly Golf Club. Now, she's back at the course to as a commentator for the 119th U.S. Women's Amateur.
Photo by: Jennifer Mosbrucker/Dispatch Staff

 

Juli Inkster celebrates winning the 1999 U.S. Women's Open Championship following the final round at Old Waverly Golf Club in West Point on June 6, 1999.

Juli Inkster celebrates winning the 1999 U.S. Women's Open Championship following the final round at Old Waverly Golf Club in West Point on June 6, 1999.
Photo by: Courtesy photo/United States Golf Association/John Mummert

 

Juli Inkster holds the U.S. Women's Open trophy after the fourth round of the 1999 U.S. Women's Open Championship at Old Waverly Golf Club in West Point on June 6, 1999.

Juli Inkster holds the U.S. Women's Open trophy after the fourth round of the 1999 U.S. Women's Open Championship at Old Waverly Golf Club in West Point on June 6, 1999.
Photo by: Courtesy photo/United States Golf Association/John Mummert

 

 

Ben Portnoy

 

 

As Juli Inkster wandered the grounds of Old Waverly Golf Club Wednesday, a familiar rush enveloped her body. 

 

The 1999 U.S. Women's Open Champion, Inkster returned to the course that brought her and Mississippi to the center of the golfing world 20 years ago. 

 

"It was just pure joy," she said of the win. "I played great all week and I handled the pressure, and I just felt great." 

 

This week, Old Waverly plays host to the U.S. Women's Amateur tournament -- a title Inkster won three-straight times as a youngster. The former champion is on the grounds in West Point as a television analyst for Fox Sports One. 

 

And while it's been two decades since her five-shot victory over Sherri Turner, onlookers still remember the record-breaking weekend Inkster delivered in front of more than 100,000 spectators. 

 

"I feel like the big woman on campus," she told The Dispatch. "It was such a great win for my career." 

 

 

 

'I'm going to win' 

 

Old Waverly founder George Bryan remembers running into Inkster following the first day of the 1999 U.S. Open. 

 

The two crossed paths at an Alabama concert the night after Inkster fired a 7-under, 65, in first round. 

 

"She said, 'I'm going to win the tournament,'" Bryan recalled. 

 

"Right when I got here I thought I was playing well," Inkster added. "I felt like this was my time to do it." 

 

Following an impressive opening day, she responded with a 3-under, 69, on day two a 5-under, 67, on day three to take sole possession of the lead heading into Sunday's final round. 

 

"If I slept a half-hour that was probably a lot," Inkster said of that Saturday night. "I just tossed and turned a lot." 

 

Stepping to the first tee box for her final round, Inkster's mind raced. Seven years prior, she held a two-stroke lead with two holes to play at the U.S. Open before falling to Patty Sheehan in an 18-hole playoff.  

 

That pressure weighed heavily.  

 

She boasted a four-shot lead entering Sunday at Old Waverly. It was her tournament to lose. 

 

Shaking off the initial butterflies, Inkster tamed the course's tricky fairways and wicked greens. 

 

"It wasn't clicking but I felt like I wasn't swinging in a straight jacket," Inkster said of how she loosened up following the first few holes. "I was a little more fluid and felt a little less pressure."  

 

Her lead never dropped below three strokes as she coasted to 1-under, 71, and took home her fourth career major title. 

 

"It just took a load off my shoulders that I finally won the U.S. Open," Inkster said. 

 

 

 

The scene 

 

The 18th hole was mobbed. 

 

Packed with a gallery roughly 10 to 15 people deep, the nearly 40,000 fans on hand made their way down the fairway as Inkster began her 375-yard stride to victory. 

 

Included in the crowd was Charlie Chandler. A 20-year-old Ole Miss sophomore at the time, Chandler grew up on the property. He even recalled the days before Old Waverly had a clubhouse.  

 

But that Sunday, Chandler manned the ropes during Inkster's round as an usher. Helping to keep the wave of fans at bay, he meandered down the 18th hole needing to almost push and shove to keep the gallery in check. 

 

"I'm pretty sure we were the final group that day," he said. "... But it was just really neat being a 20-year-old kid walking around seeing all this stuff at the course you grew up on." 

 

As Chandler managed the crowd, Inkster's nerves momentarily returned. Her playing partner, Kellie Kuehne, sent her tee shot into the water. 

 

"I watched that and was like 'Oh my gosh,'" Inkster said. 

 

Regaining her composure, Inkster hit a wood off the tee toward the bunkers in the middle of the fairway before dropping a seven iron within 12 feet of the hole. 

 

"Once the ball landed on the green it was like all the pressure was off," she said. "I was going to enjoy the walk -- and I did." 

 

Striding down the fairway, Inkster clutched her visor anxiously. Swinging her arms to the rhythm of her wistful gait she high-fived her caddy as they made the move toward the green. 

 

Looking into the camera just a few feet in front of her she exclaimed, "I'm bringing home the trophy." 

 

 

 

Portraits of a champion past  

 

Inkster the analyst sat toward the back wall in the dining room of the clubhouse at Old Waverly on Thursday. 

 

Walking across the room, Chandler approached her. Inkster played nice, shaking his hand -- though whether she remembered him was unclear. 

 

Chandler excitedly explained how he had held the rope during her triumphant round on July 6, 1999. 

 

"I was hoping I'd run into her," he said. "Because if I saw her I was going tell her that." 

 

Twenty years since Inkster's title, the momentous scene on the 18th green is immortalized in a picture frame in the center hallway on the bottom floor of the clubhouse. 

 

The frame contains five photos -- two stacked on top of each other to either side and a portrait of the 18th hole consuming the center. 

 

The pair on the right side depicts Inkster. The top image shows her taking a swing from the fairway while the bottom image captured her celebratory expression on the final green. 

 

Though subtle and tucked away, the photos are a reminder of the emotion and maddening environment in which Inkster claimed the defining title in her career at a place she was finally able to revisit this week. 

 

"Good vibes at Old Waverly," she said.

 

Ben Portnoy reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @bportnoy15.

 

 

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