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February 19, 2003

Juli Inkster

JOHN MARSHALL: This is John Marshall. I'm the tournament media director. First of all, thanks for taking time out of your schedule to join us today.

JULI INKSTER: No problem.

JOHN MARSHALL: I hear it's nice and sunny out there. It's not sunny here, but it will be April 21 through 27.

JULI INKSTER: I hope so.

JOHN MARSHALL: We like to think that Juli won two majors last year, the US Women's Open and the Chick-Fil-A Charity Championship. As you all probably remember, she finished like a Hall of Famer and the champion she is by eagling the 18th hole to beat Kelly Robbins by a couple of shots. We're very excited she's going to be back to defend this year. Juli, I thought I'd have our tournament director Torrey Gane and Don Perry from Chick -Fil-A make some comments, and maybe you can make some comments about your victory last year, what it meant to you, then we will open it up to questions and answers.

JULI INKSTER: Sounds good.

JOHN MARSHALL: Torrey, you want to begin.

TORREY GANE: Thank you again for calling in, Juli. You're our good luck charm. We know it's going to be sunny weather this year because you're our defending champion. No more delays out there. We're excited to be hosting our 12th annual LPGA tournament at Eagles Landing Country Club in Stockbridge April 21st through the 27th. Our sponsors are once again giving us some great support out here. We're hoping to get another million dollars after two years of giving a million dollars each year to our charities. In our eight-year total in working with Chick-Fil-A since 1995, we've given $4.2 million. This is our fourth year having Nancy Lopez as our official host. Most importantly, we have such a strong field of past champions, especially Juli Inkster, US Open reigning champ. We've done a commemorative bobble-head out there, looking forward to giving that away to all our fans of Juli. She'll be the first LPGA Tour person to have her own bobble-head.

JULI INKSTER: I feel special about that.

JOHN MARSHALL: Don, would you like to make a few comments from Chick-Fil-A's standpoint.

DON PERRY: Thank you. Juli, thank you for taking the time to join us. From Chick-Fil-A's perspective, the title sponsor, it is an obvious comment that we would have, as we all know we are so economically challenged these days, the business community is so tough. As Torrey said just a moment ago, we couldn't be more thankful for the support which I think just says volumes about where this tournament has grown, where Torrey and her staff has brought it. For the sponsors in very tough economic times to come on board and allow us to increase the purse again this year, to be able to do this, we owe it all to our sponsors, and we take it a very serious credit it is because we feel this is a real good the tournament, the defending champions and all the players that show up each year. Not the kind of thing we really think about from a copy standpoint, but it is an obvious statement that we want to acknowledge how much we appreciate the fans that are going to be able to come back and enjoy a great tournament because the sponsors have hung in there when they all tell us it hasn't been very easy. Just wanted to share that and let you guys know that speaks volumes to us as the title sponsor, to have that kind of support for what we've been trying to do for these nine years with Chick-Fil-A and the 12 years for the whole tournament.

JOHN MARSHALL: Thank you. There is not a better sponsor on the LPGA Tour than Chick-Fil-A. I think everyone would second that emotion. Juli, if you could say a few words about your victory, how challenging it was on the Back 9 that day, what a great battle you had with several different players coming down the stretch.

JULI INKSTER: First of all, I'd like to also thank Don Perry and Chick-Fil-A. They're part of why they get such a good field, why the players really support it. Chick-Fil-A really believes in the LPGA, and they bring kind of a home feeling to the tournament. The players enjoy that. Also the golf course, Cecil Smith does a great job of getting that golf course in shape. It's a fun course to play because it's kind of a risk/reward course. The par 5s, you have to play aggressive. That's where you probably need to do your scoring. Great par 3s. There's a lot of stuff out there, issues out there, that can get you in trouble. You got to hit the ball good. I think that's why you have such a great tournament winner, because they are all good ball-strikers and they all can make a lot of birdies. You kind of want to win tournaments that have that flavor of past champions that are very respected, very well-known. I was happy to be able to come away with a win there. Also having Nancy Lopez, having her involved, the players have such a great respect and admiration for her, you know, it's fun to go out and see her out there and also support her. It's a win-win situation. I've stayed with a great family that I've stayed with since Haley was born, and that's 13 years ago. It gives me a chance to go back and stay with them. They're kind of my southern family. They've been out here to visit us. It's been a lot of fun. I look forward to coming back and defending my championship.

JOHN MARSHALL: Thank you, Juli. Now let's open it up to questions.

Q. What have you been doing in these weeks before you kick it up into your schedule with the LPGA, besides family stuff and all?

JULI INKSTER: Well, you know, I've been trying to work on my game. I felt like I played really good at the start of the year, the middle of the year. I felt like towards the end of the year, I didn't play as well as I had been playing the last few years. I felt like my swing kind of got off and I didn't really have time to fix it. I've been working on my swing and working on my game. I'm coaching my daughter's seventh grade basketball team, so that's taking a lot of time. We practice three days a week and we have a game. I'm doing that. It's been a lot of fun. I mean, dealing with seventh grade girls, we share the gym with the eighth grade boys, so there's a lot of issues there (laughter). I've been working out, just being a mom. It's been very nice. It's been very nice being home. But also I look forward to getting back out there and playing some golf.

Q. A long wait to start the season with February kind of being blocked out.

JULI INKSTER: Yeah, it is a long wait. But I would rather do it, the start in March, than have one in January, one in February, you know. So to me I think once we start and go, it's going to be fine. But watching the guys play and stuff, it definitely gets your juices flowing.

Q. I'm sure everybody has some thoughts on Annika's decision. What has been going through your mind since she decided to do that?

JULI INKSTER: You know what, I think it's a good tournament for her to do it, if she's going to do it. Not just because of the length, I just think she's not taking a spot of somebody that's trying to make a living out there. It's an invitational tournament. Annika has dominated the last couple years on our golf tour. Once in a while we sneak in and get a win here and there, but basically she's always right up there. You know, she's the Tiger Woods of our tour. You know, if Tiger had a next level to go to, I bet you he would do that. I think she's one that always wants to challenge herself and to see how she stacks up against the best. The men are the best. She has an opportunity to do this, and I say go for it. If she wants to do it, that's great. If anybody's going to be as prepared as you can be, it will be Annika. The hard part is putting that much pressure on somebody for two rounds. I mean, she really only has two rounds to really prove herself, you know, to get in there, make the cut and get going. Most people have a whole year to try to prove themselves. I mean, it's going to be hard. But I think she can handle it.

Q. How do you think she'll do?

JULI INKSTER: You know what, I wouldn't put it past her to do well. The problem is, which is different on our tour, the guys, they really tuck those pins. They do it four from the right, three from the back. If she's hitting 4-irons and 5-irons in, they're hitting 8-irons and 7-irons in, that's a big difference. You know, I wouldn't put it past her to play well.

Q. How about you? Does it interest you any time to try anything like that?

JULI INKSTER: Not in the slightest (laughter). Once I can beat Annika consistently, then maybe. But I've got my own issues trying to deal with her.

Q. With the attention that Annika has received, to a lesser extent Michelle Wie, all the talk has been about her playing tournaments with the men. There hasn't been that much discussion about the LPGA over the last couple months. Do you think it's kind of detracted or do you think any publicity is good publicity?

JULI INKSTER: You know, we always struggle to get publicity. I think it's a positive publicity. Michelle Wie, she's going to be playing in the Chick-Fil-A. She got a sponsor's exemption. This girl is 13 years old. I look at my daughter who just turned 13, I mean, it's just phenomenal that she wants to do this. She has come out in the open and said, "By the time I get to be in college, I want to compete against the guys." In high school I competed against the guys. I think it made me a better player in the long run because I played from the men's tees, I competed with their length, my short game got better. I think it helped me. I think it's good publicity. I don't think there's anything wrong with it. I think any publicity right now is good for us - especially positive publicity where good players are trying to improve themselves.

Q. Do you think the tour's reputation rides on her play or is it an independent operation like Annika tends to think it is?

JULI INKSTER: Well, you know, I think it's funny how I've had just in my area people stop me on the streets and say, "How is Annika going to do?" Most of them have been men. It's surprising. I don't know if they're just saying that because I'm a woman, they're saying, "We're rooting for her, we want her to do well." I don't foresee Annika going out there and shooting a couple 80s. It's just not in her makeup. I think she's going to play well. If she doesn't play well, then hopefully they'll give her another chance to prove herself somewhere else. I think in the long run, once she gets comfortable out there, I think she can play well.

Q. She's said all along it's not a reflection of the whole tour, it shouldn't reflect on the tour, it's just her doing it.

JULI INKSTER: It's two different games, two different lengths, two different golf courses. It's just a different atmosphere. There's going to be so much pressure on her, the media. ESPN every night is going to be doing the Annika Watch. That in itself is going to be the hardest part. I think once she's been the ropes and plays her game, I think she'll do okay. I asked her if she needed a caddie that week (laughter).

Q. Before Annika started really dominating the last couple years, it was back and forth between her and Karrie. If you really examine things, it was more of a big three, and you were kind of a silent member of the big three, didn't get quite as much ink as anyone else. You had your successes, head-to-head wins against both of them. Did it ever bother you that you don't get quite the press or recognition that those two have gotten?

JULI INKSTER: No, not really. I mean, the challenge to me, which I enjoy, which keeps me motivated, is trying to play against the best. I think the best right now, day in and day out, are Annika, Se Ri, and Karrie. I don't play as many tournaments as they do. When I play, I want to be ready to play. I don't really play for the publicity. I play for the competition. It's kind of hard to have a rivalry when I'm 10 years older than Annika and probably -- I don't know how old Karrie is, but probably 15 or 16 years older than Karrie. It's kind of tough to have a rivalry when there's a big age difference like that. I have a lot of respect for the way they've played, what kind of people they are. I just try to go out there and I think they have a lot of respect for my game, too. That's the bottom line, is I play to compete with the best. For me, I think those three are the best.

Q. Do you measure your success by the fact you have their respect and have earned that through the years?

JULI INKSTER: Yes. To me, as long as I have the respect of my peers and my family, the tournaments and the sponsors and stuff like that, that's why I play. I play for that. I play to earn my respect from my peers. I've had a great life doing it. Not too many people can say they go to work and enjoy what they do. I love to play the game. I think the older I get, I appreciate it more. I appreciate being able to play, play to a high level. It's not easy to do. I think that's what keeps me motivated, keeps me hungry, is the appreciation for the game.

Q. The last couple years, the three have dominated, but there's been more of an influx of the international players. Except for you, there haven't been that many American players doing well the last couple years. Do you have any concerns about the future of women's golf in the United States?

JULI INKSTER: Yeah, I worry about that. You know, I just think it's the American tour, even though it's pretty much a worldwide tour. But, you know, I think that's going to change. I think we're going to get - maybe not in the next two or three years - but I think in the next five or six years there is a lot of good players. Golf right now in the United States is cool to play. I would say five to ten years ago, it wasn't really the sport to play. I think Tiger's helped that, I think Annika's helped that. I think it's going to change. Right now, I just look at the way I raise my kids, they're in everything. They play basketball, they play softball, they do dance, they do Girl Scouts. I think more in the foreign countries, they pick a sport. "This is what you're going to do, this is what you're going to play." Whether that's right or wrong, I don't know. I think that's why you have at such a young age foreigners playing well. But 10 years from now, are they still going to be playing? Do they love the game? I think the United States is slow on that. I was brought up, "Don't push your kid, let them decide." I think there's a happy medium. I'm trying to figure that out, when you push them and when do you not push them. I think right now that's where we are in the United States, is not to push them, let them decide. Golf is just such a tough game for girls to get into because girls are social at that age. Between 10 and 16, 17, they want to be with their friends. Not all their friends can afford to play golf. I think that's a lot of it, too, right there. I think in the long run, our junior programs, especially inner city kids and stuff, we're reaching out to them more. I think in the long run, we're going to get some good golfers from that.

Q. Specifically out of the LPGA, you had a lot of American players, young Americans who looked like they had a lot of promise. You're going to be Solheim Cup captain if a few years. How do you feel about the way things are going on the tour with young Americans not living up to their promise?

JULI INKSTER: It's hard because, if you have a good year on the LPGA, you win one or two times. That's a great year. I say twice to three times is a great year. With Annika dominating the way she's dominating, you only have a select amount of people that are winning. I think a lot of times the younger players come out, and it's so much more competitive, it's so much harder, they struggle with their confidence, then they get down, then they press. It's kind of a cycle thing. I talk a lot with the younger players. I talk a lot with Laura Diaz, Pat Hurst, Natalie Gulbis, the players coming up, Christie Kerr, "Stay in your game plan, practice schedule, keep working hard, things will turn around. You can't press it. You have to stay doing what you're doing." Hopefully in the long run it will work out for them. I think they are good players, they just have to take it to the next level, that is competing for majors and playing consistent golf week in and week out. That's what's so impressive about Annika, Se Ri, Karrie. You look at their stats, if they don't win, they're still up there. That's what you want. You want to have a consistent week in and week out of playing good golf, then the wins will come in bunches.

Q. We were talking a moment ago about respect. What about the respect you have for someone like Nancy Lopez who has more or less passed the torch to the next generation? How important is someone like her in keeping this sport going, keeping this particular tournament going?

JULI INKSTER: I mean, what Nancy has is the respect of not only her peers, but basically of the United States. I mean, everybody knows Nancy Lopez. She brought to the game classiness, that smile. Not too many people have that charisma just to make everyone feel like they're your best friend. Nancy has that character. She's done a lot for the LPGA. She continues to do a lot. She's not playing as much anymore, but she's still out there, she's still talking to the younger players. People come up and ask questions. She's more than willing to give advice. I think that's what the younger players need to see. What they need to do is the history of the LPGA, the Kathy Whitworths, Pat Bradleys, the people that really made this tour what it is today.

Q. Was there a women's program at San Jose State when you were there?

JULI INKSTER: Yeah, there was a women's program. I was talking high school. I started my sophomore year in high school . I started to play a little bit in that summer before. The golf coach was a great guy, and he really encouraged me to go out. If he didn't encourage me, I probably wouldn't have done it. He encouraged me to go out for the team and try to make the team. I ended up making it. The rest is history. Playing against the guys, from their tees, just fit into my competitiveness all the way. I loved that aspect of it. The guys that I played with also loved that aspect of it.

Q. Were you, like your girls now, into everything?

JULI INKSTER: I was. I mean, I didn't start golf till I was 15. I played basketball. I played softball. I have two older brothers. I pretty much did everything they did. I think I ended up getting a job at the golf course when I was 15, parking cars, picking up the range. I fell in love with the sport that I could do, I didn't need anybody else to do. I was always very independent, really didn't need a lot of people to feel comfortable. Golf was just really challenging for me. Once I started playing, I played before school and after school. I still played basketball, but I didn't play softball anymore.

Q. Have either of your girls shown a real affinity for golf yet?

JULI INKSTER: No, not much, not much. You know, I would love for them to play, just because I think it's a great game to play. It's a game you can play all your life. It's a good family sport. Again, I'm on that bubble: Do I push them to play or do I just let them play because they want to play? I'm kind of right in there with every other family in the world.

Q. Have you watched Michelle Wie play at all? What are your impressions of her?

JULI INKSTER: I have not watched her play. I watched her hit a few shots on the range when I was in Hawaii. You know what, she seems like a great gal. She booms it a mile. She's 13. I hope she sticks with it. I hope she doesn't put a lot of pressure on herself come 15, 16. Those are really instrumental years in golf and in growing up as a person. I hope she's doing it because she loves the game. That's the only way it's going to get out Utah there to work at it.

Q. Her athleticism is pretty impressive.


Q. How would you describe yourself as a basketball coach?

JULI INKSTER: I think we're doing pretty good. We're 5-1, doing pretty good. I have seven girls on our team. One really good one, two that are pretty good, and four that haven't played much. We're doing okay.

Q. Do you stay calm on the sidelines most of the time?

JULI INKSTER: Yeah, I do, I do. I haven't gotten thrown out on any technical fouls. I'm try to be more positive than constantly yelling at the girls. We're having fun with it. This is the first year I've been the head coach. Last time I was the assistant coach. I have more input. I have practice drills, what we're doing in practice, offense. It's been a lot of fun. It's a lot of work. But I've gone to a few of the Stanford women's basketball practices, too, watched how they run their team and stuff. It's been a lot of fun. It's been really eye-opening to me.

Q. Back to Eagles Landing, you're saying it's a risk/reward course. How does that match up with your game when you're playing the way you want to play?

JULI INKSTER: It matches great because it's a great approach shot, iron shot into the green. The fairways are not generous, but you can get the ball on the fairway. From there, that's when it tightens up. The par 5s, it takes two good shots to get there, that helps out. I just remember last year when I was playing, I was driving the ball great, I was hitting my irons very well. I putted well. It was a good combination. Plus, again, I had the good draw of the week. Of course, that always works out in the long run, kind of evens out. I just felt down the road I could win at that golf tournament because it did suit my game. You just have to put everything together. Kelly kept pushing me. She got off to kind of a slow start, I got off to a fast start, then Kelly just was pushing me on that backside, and I kept answering. It was fun. The last hole, that's a great finishing hole.

Q. If Annika would do well, would that help bring more corporate money into the sport, push it to another level?

JULI INKSTER: You know, as Don was saying, the economics, it's tough. If people are going to spend money on golf tournaments, they got to get something out of it as far as their clients, their sponsorships. I think any publicity, as long as it's good, positive publicity, is great. I think this is a positive thing. I mean, it's not a gender issue or anything like that, it's just a woman that's trying to improve herself, trying to play against the best. If she was out there winning one or two times on our tour tournament schedule, I'd say, "What's she doing?" But she's dominated us for two or three years. She wants to play against the best of the best. I think that is a good way to see where she stacks up.

JOHN MARSHALL: Thank you, Juli. We will see you in April.

JULI INKSTER: Thank you.

End of FastScripts...

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