By Ron Kroichick
San Francisco Chronicle
Juli Inkster acts like a professional athlete half her age. She occasionally works out with her daughter Hayley, who bragged about her mom’s enduring ability to complete a handstand or cartwheel on command.
“She’s a spitfire,” Hayley said. “She’s very young at heart, and she’s a lot of fun. That’s a pretty awesome combination.”
Inkster, at 53, still competes against players in their teens and 20s on the LPGA Tour, the world’s highest level of women’s golf. She takes to the course this week at Lake Merced Golf Club for the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic, the tour’s first event in the Bay Area in almost four years.
But this chapter of Inkster’s life is winding down, after a playing career stretching more than three decades and leading to the World Golf Hall of Fame. She’s one of only three Northern Californians honored in the hall, along with San Francisco natives Johnny Miller and Ken Venturi.
As she scales back her playing schedule, Inkster is preparing to launch the next phase of her career — as the United States captain for next year’s Solheim Cup in Germany (a team event matching the U.S. against Europe) and as a television reporter for Golf Channel.
They are natural steps for one of the most accomplished women’s players ever — her 31 LPGA wins, including seven major championships, are tied for 16th all-time — even if Inkster is not sure whether she can replace the adrenaline rush of elite competition.
She’s always savored the tension of charging down the stretch in contention, dating to her days growing up in Santa Cruz and later as a three-time All-American at San Jose State (she now lives in Los Altos). As those chances dwindled in recent years, Inkster found perpetual challenge in working on her game.