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U.S. Open champion deftly balances motherhood, golf

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By HUBERT MIZELL, Times Sports Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published July 14, 2002


Pass the apple pie. Too many athletes have overloads of ego, greed and arrogance mismatched with shortfalls of humility, patience and appreciation. But Juli Inkster's style brings warm, soothing tears to traditional eyes.

A week ago in Kansas, the 42-year-old won her second U.S. Open.

Inkster's putter was afire, but competitive passions brewed even hotter in eyes now beautifully cracked by maturity. Nearing the sweetest prize in her sport, Inkster's smile generously communicated with cheering thousands. Everybody seemed to want a hug. Inkster appeared willing.

Refreshing demeanor.

Two years ago, Inkster ruled the LPGA Championship, making her the second woman to win two golfing majors past age 40, joining a towering multisport legend, 1932 Olympic sensation Babe Didriksen Zaharias.

After her concluding Prairie Dunes putt, Inkster skipped a path lined by jubilant patrons, high-fiving with left hand and right. In the spirit of Charles Lindbergh parading through Wall Street ticker tape after his heroic flight.

Inkster's posse is so different from those of many contemporary jocks.

Soon, she found a quiet swatch near a country club pool, pulled a cell phone from her golf bag and called home to Santa Cruz, Calif., where children Hayley, 12, and Cori, 8, were in the care of Inkster's parents and longtime nanny, Tina England.

TV eavesdropped on Inkster's words. Delightful banter, wholesome and apropos. Like many of us would enjoy hearing from today's conquering athletes but seldom do. Inkster, being her proud, thankful, uncomplicated, natural, sharing self.

Inkster's first shout to home was, "Winner! Winner!" To which her kids yelled in reply, "Chicken dinner!" I don't know what that means, but it reminded me of less-complicated times when Andy, Barney and Opie were hot if not complex.

For 22 years, Inkster has balanced global golf with life's more important work as Brian's wife and mother to their daughters. Challenges that go with being on the road 30 weeks a year. Demanding ideas and cures other than mere fame or money.

In all roles, she's a champ.

Make mine a la mode.

* * *

CHIPS, PUTTS, WHIFFS: What an ESPN-manufactured joke, honoring the Lakers as team of the year, when so many more deserved it: 1) Patriots, 2) UConn women's hoops, 3) Miami football and 4) Diamondbacks. ... What an uplift in character if the Charlotte buzz is accurate and Larry Bird becomes an NBA expansion franchise owner, replacing the Hornets and George Shinn, a bad, bad, bad bossman now cast upon New Orleans. ... Almost every day, somebody tries to explain to me why they're convinced Venus and Serena Williams are bad for tennis but that race has nothing to do with such a stance. ... Speaking of Williamses, how rotten that Ted's memory was bruised when all should've been warm and wonderful during All-Star tributes thanks to Kid Freeze, the son The Kid so loved and trusted. ... Steve Spurrier doesn't want me saying anything nice about the Dallas Cowboys, but you keep hearing Jerry Jones and associates are enthralled about the immediate chances of Chad Hutchinson, a former Stanford quarterback who spent four seasons as a minor-league baseball player (a familiar story, but a fresh verse). ... Word is Mick Jagger once kissed steroids, which accounts for the lips. ... This probably won't matter much to you, not being apt to affect W's and L's, but how disturbing that Bucs ownership, the Glazers, follow their Bill Parcells blunders and shameful mishandlings of Tony Dungy and Rich McKay with a nonsensical paring of Reggie Roberts, one of the NFL's finest PR chiefs. This summer, Reg was persuaded to turn down a lucrative move to the New York Jets, getting a raise to stay with Tampa Bay. Now this. I'd like to think incoming coach Jon Gruden was not a key in this travesty.

READER'S RANT: E-mail from Kelly Sisserson of St. Pete Beach suggests, "You and other Dungy-loving media should squash the flame. Blow him a kiss and say goodbye. Tampa Bay fired its coach on merit, for being incompetent and hard-headed regarding offensive football.

"Maybe, as you write, Tony will have fortune as coach in Indianapolis because it is Colts defense that needs repairing and he can leave the point-scoring work to Peyton Manning, Edgerrin James and some assistants who were in place before Indy took a stab with Dungy.

"Dungy is just another overrated NFL coordinator who is victimized by the Peter Principle. He's not head coaching material. Good for the Glazers, going to a creative mind like Jon Gruden. I was fed up with Dungy's boring, predictable offense that kept the Bucs from going to a Super Bowl.

"Indianapolis is welcome to him."

Whatever happened to Denny Green?

-- To contact Hubert Mizell, e-mail mmizell02@ earthlink.net or mail to P.O. Box 726, Nellysford, VA 22958.

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