After undergoing surgery to fix a torn tendon in her right elbow in January, LPGA and World Golf Hall of Famer Juli Inkster will make her 2012 tour debut in the glare of the spotlight at this week’s NW Arkansas Championship. The 52-year-old seven-time major champ will play her first two rounds with top-ranked U.S. player Stacy Lewis and new Stanford grad Michelle Wie.
Inkster, who teamed with Champions Tour player and Massachusetts native, Dana Quigley, in the recent CVS Caremark Charity Classic in Rhode Island, had hoped to avoid surgery after shutting her game down following the Lorena Ochoa Invitational last November. Rest and platelet-rich plasma injections in November did not help, however, so two San Francisco 49er surgeons reattached her tendon and moved the ulnar nerve.
While antsy to return to the course, Inkster noted that she had plenty to do while on the disabled list.
“I have two kids that graduated this year and…I really don’t know how I would have done it and played golf, so it was kind of a blessing in disguise,” Inkster said. “I missed [golf]. I missed the competition, I missed the playing, I missed working towards something, but also it was great being home. Once I could start chipping and putting and stuff, it kind of was better.”
Inkster began tinkering with a club at the end of March and took her first full swing in April. She was curious to see what shape her game would be in this week.
“When I’ve been playing, if I didn’t like a shot I would just drop one and hit it again,” Inkster said. “I don’t think they’re going to let me do that out there. So I think just getting into playing mode’s going to be the toughest part.”
Wie, by the way, graduated from Stanford on June 17 and promptly broke a streak of five consecutive stroke-play missed cuts to post a T68 at the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic in Waterloo, Ontario.
Lewis, who earlier this week donated $100,000 to the University of Arkansas women’s golf program, is the hottest player in golf. The world No. 2 has five top-five finishes in her last five stars, including wins at the Mobile Bay LPGA Classic and the ShopRite LPGA Classic.
Of course, Inkster, Wie, Lewis, and the rest of the field will have reigning No. 1 Yani Tseng to deal with when they tee off in the first of three rounds on Friday.
Tseng, also a contender in Brad Faxon and Billy Andrade’s annual New England tilt that Morgan Pressel and her teammate Jay Haas won, has struggled of late but is the back-to-back defending champ this week. Tseng’s playoff win over Amy Tang last year was her fifth of seven tour titles for the 2011 season.
Emily Kay is a regular contributor to New England Golf Monthly. You may follow Kay on Twitter @golfexaminerWHAT'S YOUR REACTION?