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Major Champions Giving Back in Big Ways at the LPGA Senior Championship

By: Steve Eubanks

 


HURRICANE, Utah — As they knocked the dust off their own games for one of the biggest tournaments that they’ll play this year, a couple of major champions in the field at the LPGA Senior Championship kept an eye on another event going on this week: the NCAA Division I Women’s Golf Championship.

 

“I came straight here from the NCAAs,” said 1998 Chevron Championship winner Pat Hurst. “I was out there for all the stroke play. They’re in match play now, and I’ll be watching as much of it as I can as I’m getting ready out here.” 

 

Today the six-time LPGA Tour winner and former Solheim Cup captain works for Titleist and FootJoy in amateur player development. That keeps Hurst busy out at AJGA events and college tournaments evaluating talent and bringing young players along. She was at the Mizuho Americas Open last week, not to watch Nelly Korda and Madelene Sagstrom, but to keep up with all the top juniors in the field.

 

“Golf has been good to me, and this is a great way to give back,” Hurst said. “It’s nice growing the game, especially women’s golf.” 

 

She’s not alone. One of Hurst’s dearest friends in the field, LPGA Hall of Fame member and seven-time major champion Juli Inkster also has a vested interest in the younger players. Inkster, too, is keeping an eye on the National Championship.

 

“I keep up with the younger players,” Inkster said. “I have my award, and I really enjoy that part of it, helping the younger players start their careers and being more of a one-on-one mentor. I’ve had a lot of fun doing that.”

 

Ingrid Lindblad, the Swede from Louisiana State University, and Maisie Filler, who competes for the University of Florida, are the two finalists for the 2024 Inkster Award presented by Workday, which goes to a player who has remained in school through her senior year. Inkster spends time mentoring that award winner after the conclusion of their collegiate career. Last year’s recipient, Jenny Bae from the University of Georgia, has won twice on the Epson Tour.

 

Both Inkster and Hurst admit that keeping up with the young players makes them feel young but also wise. They enjoy being the voice of experience to talented young players, even if they themselves aren’t playing much anymore. 

 

“My last competitive round was the Nine-and-Dine 9-hole event at my club,” Inkster said. “I haven’t played multiple rounds of competitive golf since the U.S. Senior Women’s Open last year. But I still love to play, and I have a good group of people that I play with down in the desert. I have fun with it and enjoy the game.

 

“I’m 63 and I’m still out here working and still get miffed when I hit a bad shot. It’s just one of those games.”

 

Hurst agreed. “Wendy Ward and I played as partners in the senior division of the Marilynn Smith Arizona Open, but I’m not playing much, so I just want to go out and have fun,” she said. “This isn’t my job. It’s like a reunion out here. And to me, that’s what all the senior events are about. I love being around the people I spent my whole career hanging out with.

 

“Everyone swings the same. You can tell from two fairways over who is in the group because they’re swinging exactly the same. It doesn’t change.”

 

Inkster, who played her practice rounds with Hurst, nodded and said, “There are a lot of people I haven’t seen in a while, and it’s great to catch up. We all love golf, and we want to keep playing.”

 

They understand where they are in life and what’s important. Grinding over five-footers is a thing of the past. Instead, they’re ready to spend time imparting the lessons of a lifetime in golf to the next generation. 

 

“I’m really happy with where I am with my life,” Inkster said. “I’m doing what I want to do staying active and engaged.”

 

She’ll be a lot busier later this year. Inkster shared the news that she’ll be a grandmother for the first time this fall. Her oldest daughter, Hayley, is expecting in September. “That’s big news. It’s going to be fun,” Inkster said.

 

In the meantime, the two players will try to tame the firm, fast conditions at Copper Rock Golf Course while keeping an eye on the outcome of the NCAA matches.  

 

“It’s a fun course to play and there are a lot of risk-reward holes so that’s going to create some drama,” Inkster said. “We’re here to compete but have some fun. Hopefully, that’s how the week plays out.” 

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