It started during one of her many practice sessions at “the farm.” Stanford has a 30-acre practice facility adjacent to its George C. Thomas-designed golf course, which is widely regarded as one of the best university-owned courses in the world. And when Juli Inkster is home in Northern California, she spends time there hitting shots and working tirelessly on her short game.
Anne Walker, the Stanford Women’s Golf Coach, has watched Inkster for years. Walker’s office is like a bubble with views of the entire complex. She sits in awe as a 31-time winner and 7-time major champion continues to grind at her game. Recently, as Walker watched one of Inkster’s work days, she thought, “There should absolutely be an award named after her.”
Several months and many conversations later, Inkster announced the creation of the Juli Inkster Senior Award, a recognition given to the top-ranked female college golfer who has completed her fourth year of eligibility. It is a recognition for college athletes who remain in school and commit to their teams.
Commitment is a passion for Inkster.
“College coaches are seeing more players coming out (early) and trying the tour. I’m all about honoring commitment and teammates,” Inkster told LPGA.com. “A lot of these coaches are trying to win a national championship and they’re seeing their top dogs leave early. They’re sitting there with gutted rosters and open scholarships. We thought it would be great to create something that recognized a collegiate player who stayed all four years and has a commitment to her university, her teammates and coaches.”
Inkster stayed. While most fans know her for her hall-of-fame career, she played at San Jose State from 1979 through 1982, during which time she was a three-time All-American and won three consecutive U.S. Women’s Amateurs. She also played on the Curtis Cup and was a two-time member of the World Cup team.
As a professional, Inkster played on nine Solheim Cup teams and captained three.
This award is in her blood. She worked with Cambia, the sponsor of the Cambia Portland Classic, to provide a sponsor’s exemption to the winner. She will also spend two full days with the recipient, playing golf, answering questions and preparing her for the next stage of her career.
“Once they finish nationals, it’ll be the highest-ranked senior,” Inkster said. “They’ll get the sponsor invite to Portland, which is usually in September. I’ll work it out with their schedules, maybe right after NCAAs or right after school is out, I’ll spend a couple of days with them.
“We’re hoping to grow it. If we can just get one kid to think about staying in school for four years, I think it’s a win. Hopefully we can get them to say, ‘Hey, I’ll stay one more year, one more semester and then get my card.’
“Look, you’ll never have another chance to win an (NCAA) national championship. You only have four chances at that and then it’s gone. So to enhance your chances, to make it worthwhile to stay in school and honor your commitment, doing the things that Jennifer Kupcho and Maria Fassi did, hopefully it’ll encourage someone to do that.
Walker deflects all attention back to Inkster. “This was all her,” the Stanford coach told LPGA.com “She’s done nothing but push this. She’s been totally committed. She was responsible to getting Cambia to give a sponsor’s exemption to this person. And the fact that she is going to commit time to get a kid off to the right start, it shows what a remarkable person she is.
“When you look back at who would have won this award the last five or six years, they’re all LPGA Tour players now,” Walker said. “Madelene Sagstrom, Lauren Kim, Leona Maguire, Jennifer Kupcho. Juli saw all those names and said, ‘Enough said.’ Those are the kinds of kids who will win this award.”