Pinehurst galleries give Inkster a fine finale
Besides the roars for champion Michelle Wie, most specifically for Wie's eagle on No. 10, birdie on No. 17 and of course, approaching and on the final green, the biggest ovations of the day followed two-time U.S. Women's Open champion Juli Inkster around Pinehurst No. 2 Sunday afternoon.
Inkster, 53, said prior to the championship this would likely be her final one - something she reiterated her feelings about following her third round Saturday.
Inkster fired the best round of the day Saturday, a practically perfect 4-under 66 which moved her to 2-over through 54 holes, won the gallery over even more and propelled her into contention, into the next-to-last pairing of the day, for the final round.
A 5-over 75 meant Inkster wasn't playing for the title coming down the stretch.
Inkster was going to get a standing ovation from the fans in the grandstands behind the No. 17 green anyway. A fine iron and 15-foot birdie putt down a slick slope led to more appreciation from the spectators. Actually, that was the case all day, said Inkster.
"It's really hard. They were so pulling for me," Inkster said, "but it's really hard to acknowledge them when you're 5-over par and struggling. It was very nice, especially the reception on No. 1 tee and the reception on 18, and all around the golf couse. It was great. Very, very, very honored."
Her playing partner, Stephanie Meadow, a 22-year-old from Northern Ireland and the University of Alabama, was playing and excelling in her first tournament as a professional. Meadow shot a 1-under 69 to finish 1-over overall and in third place.
"Amazing," said Meadow of the afternoon paired with Inkster and Inkster's fans. "She's been an idol of mine for so long and to be able to play with her and honestly it was just a great honor. She was so sweet on the course and I loved it. I had a great time."
Her competitors came out to add to the ovations on the 18th green.
"Yeah, it was great. It was very good. I have a lot of respect for the players out here and it was great to see them out there," Inkster said.
Inkster holds the championship record with 35 U.S. Women's Open Championship appearances. She won the national championship in 1999 at Old Waverly Golf Club in West Point, Miss. and in 2002 at Prairie Dunes C.C. in Hutchinson, Kansas.
After joking how she might not miss playing in the Open so much after Sunday's play, she said she will miss, "just playing in the U.S. Open and how tough it is and just the feelings of just very proud to have won a couple and I can always say I'm a U.S. Open champion."