PHOENIX – Juli Inkster begins her 35th season on the LPGA this week. As the 57-year-old went to work on the range at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup Monday, a parade of players, caddies and industry folks came by for a chat. Inkster couldn’t hit more than a handful of balls before being interrupted. That’s life for one of the game’s most beloved legends.
Angel Yin, a rookie on Inkster’s Solheim Cup team last summer, stopped by to talk about fishing. She carried on about Inkster’s patriotic bag, asking if she had designed it herself.
Yes, it’s a Captain Inkster special. Made to order with a glaring blank white panel because Inkster doesn’t have a bag sponsor.
Actually, she doesn’t have any sponsors at all. Inkster wore a San Francisco Giants hat and a logo-less shirt. This is the second consecutive year she has played a season with no sponsors.
“It frustrates the hell out of me,” she said.
This is Founders Cup week, a time when the tour celebrates the past with the pioneers who started the LPGA in 1950. It’s a look-how-far-we’ve-come and where-we’re-going week.
But this conversation on a glorious spring day in the desert was a stark reminder of all that’s lacking.
Inkster has won 31 times on the LPGA, including seven major championships. In January the LPGA Hall of Famer was named the first three-time U.S. Solheim Cup captain. She’s in the booth covering the game for Fox Sports and and made seven cuts in the 10 events she played last year. She won her fourth Legends Tour title at the 2017 Walgreens Charity Classic and surpassed $14 million in LPGA career earnings with her T-26 finish at the Evian Championship.
Inkster will play five of the next six domestic starts on the LPGA, including the ANA Inspiration, and will be the face of the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open in July.
“It’s not like I’m not in the limelight, “ she said. “It’s not like I don’t get on TV. It’s not like I’m bad at pro-ams or speeches.”
Inkster is a pro’s pro, the ultimate idol for so many of the game’s stars from all over the world. There won’t be another Juli Inkster. Her resume, coupled with her longevity, puts her in a virtually untouchable category.
Imagine Tom Watson competing 10-plus times a year on the PGA Tour with no sponsors? No possible.
For the record, Inkster does have agent. (“She must not be very good,” Inkster said.)
Inkster relishes the role of being a spokeswoman for the LPGA, showing working women from all walks of life that it’s possible to do it all. She’s a go-to person for honest answers on the important issues in the game and women’s initiatives.
In short, she’s a sporting treasure. One of the most recognizable players in golf.
How is it possible that companies aren’t still recognizing that?
“It bothers me a lot,” she said, “but I’m not going to settle.”
It should bother us all.