Juli Inkster a leader in many ways

AP Photo/Mike Groll

Juli Inkster has played in nine Solheim Cups, served as an assistant captain, and one day would like to add "captain" to her résumé.

The Solheim Cup will be played for the 13th time this week, beginning Friday at the Colorado Golf Club, just outside of Denver. There have been highs and lows, triumph and heartache for both teams through the years, moments the players will never forget. This week, espnW will highlight that history as six Solheim standouts share their favorite memories.

Juli Inkster, United States

Nine appearances, 15-12-7 record

Juli Inkster never figured the Solheim Cup could be too much of a good thing. That is until 2011, when she tried to make the transition between competing and providing guidance by doing both.

"The last one was really hard for me. I was assistant captain and playing -- it was way too much," Inkster said. "It was the first time I was really glad when it was over."

Inkster appeared in her ninth Solheim Cup in Ireland two years ago, and it wasn't the farewell she would have preferred, with the United States falling to Europe. And in her mind, that "farewell" only applies to her playing career. One day, Inkster would enjoy the chance to be a captain.

"Hopefully, I'll get the opportunity, but it's really not in my hands," said Inkster, who still plays on the LPGA Tour at age 53. "I kind of fly by the seat of my pants, and I'm not that much of a tactician. I think I would be maybe a little more laid-back, but I don't know."

OK, that doesn't exactly sound like she's campaigning for the captain's job, does it? Inkster is no horn-blower, to say the least. The reality is that being the captain is a bit like being a parent, and Inkster has excelled at that. She and husband Brian have two daughters who have been able to witness some of the great moments of their mom's career.

Those included U.S. Women's Open victories in 1999 and 2002, LPGA Championship titles in '99 and 2000, and the Solheim Cup, which Inkster played in from 1992 to 2011. With 18.5 Solheim points in her career, Inkster is the top scorer for the United States.

"I loved the whole aspect of team play, just the whole camaraderie thing," Inkster said. "I grew up with two older brothers, and we all played team sports. For the Solheim, it was a lot of fun -- but also hard work -- to once every two years come together as a team."

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One moment on the Juli Inkster highlight reel, in 1998: a 35-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole that stopped Europe in its tracks.

Inkster's favorite competitive moment from the Solheim Cup was followed by one of her favorite personal moments of her career.

It was 1998 at Muirfield Village in Dublin, Ohio, and Inkster was paired with current U.S. captain Meg Mallon in a tightly contested four-ball match against current European captain Liselotte Neumann and Charlotta Sorenstam. It was near the end of Saturday's competition, and the biggest gallery was following them.

They were on the 17th green, and Neumann had just nailed what 1998 U.S. captain Judy Rankin called, "Probably the most fantastic shot anybody's ever played out of the left-front bunker there; she hit it to about a foot from the hole."

Meanwhile, Inkster was about 35 feet from the hole, trying to match the Swede for birdie. The Americans were up 2, but it looked as if the Europeans were going to win the hole and send it to No. 18. Except …

Inkster stroked her long putt, and the huge pro-American crowd roared with every inch it rolled closer to the hole.

"I was in my cart up on a hill behind the green,'' Rankin recalled, "and Hayley, Juli's oldest daughter, was sitting with me. She was about 8 then. And when Juli made the birdie putt, it was an eruption of thousands of people. It was the most thrilling, fun moment, and Hayley and I were celebrating."

The next day before the singles matches, Inkster told Rankin what had happened that previous evening when she was walking back to her lodging with Hayley after all the excitement.

"Juli said that Hayley told her, 'Mom, now I know why you do what you do,'" Rankin said. "And so it was one of the nicest things that ever came out of the Solheim Cup."

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