As for the why not, the players answered that by persistently calling Old Waverly "fair," which is tour-player lingo for "so easy that my agent could shoot 75 on it with borrowed clubs." Said Iverson, "I think they picked a very good golf course here. It's fun to make birdies." Certainly the players had more fun than they did last year, when six over par won the Open on a Wisconsin course that the women flat-out couldn't play. "I mean, it was a joke," said Inkster, who missed the cut at Blackwolf Run. "Bogey, bogey, bogey, bogey. At least here we're making birdies. It's exciting."
An even better source of excitement was the younger set, which performed very well in Mississippi. Defending champ Se Ri Pak, 21, escaped her recent doldrums and finished 14th. Grace Park, the Arizona State sophomore who currently holds the NCAA and U.S. Women's Amateur titles, tied for eighth, broke the Open record for an amateur by seven strokes and then turned pro. Most notably, there was Kuehne—a little bitty Texan racing down life's highway so fast that she's gone before the armadillos even reach the road. At 22 Kuehne has won two U.S. Amateurs, a British Amateur and an LPGA event...and she wonders what's taking so long. "People keep telling me I'm young and I should be patient," she said the week before the Open. "I don't want to be patient. I want it now."
Kuehne is pumped, both figuratively and literally. A diabetic since she was 10, she wears an insulin pump on her belt and pushes buttons to regulate her blood sugar. The location of her enthusiasm pump is a secret, but during Thursday's round she sang, chatted and exchanged the hook 'em Horns hand signal with some spectators from Austin. When she hit a wedge close on the 9th hole, Kuehne yelled, "Texas pride!"
Its little-girl energy. In the interview room after her first-round 64, Kuehne sat in the big wing chair on the dais, looking like Raggedy Ann with her feet dangling off the floor. The next day, coming in to talk about her second-round 71, she smiled mischievously and threw the chair into recliner mode. "She's never out of energy," says her fiancé, Jay Humphrey, an offensive lineman at Texas who was drafted in the fourth round by the Minnesota Vikings. "We'll come home after our workouts, I'll be real tired, and she'll say, 'Let's play racquetball!' "
Hyper? Not according to Kuehne's swing coach, Hank Haney, who says, "She's go, go, go, but she's calm and controlled on the course." Kuehne's rookie season, launched last year with much fanfare by Nike and her other corporate sponsors, was a disaster, but Kuehne never lost sight of her goal. "She was missing all these cuts," Haney says, "but when she came back to me she said, T think I can win now.' I thought, Whoa, let's play a few weekends first." After her victory in Corning, though, Haney shared her confidence. "If I were a betting man, I'd wager that Kelli will win a U.S. Open."
But it was Inkster's week, not Kuehne's, and the Californian was never really challenged in the final round. With a large, sunburned gallery following them, the veteran and the kid engaged in a kind of match play for most of the afternoon. Kuehne never got closer than three and she was five behind when she drowned her tee shot on the 72nd hole and made a double-bogey 6. Turner produced the play of the day when she holed a seven-wood from 216 yards for an eagle 2 on the difficult 11th hole. Unfortunately the NBC cameras were pointed at something else, so you'll have to settle for Turner's description of the shot: "I was saying, 'Get down, get down,' because I hit it so pure. It hit, and all at once we heard the pin rattle and people stood and cheered." That's your play of the day.
Stimulated, maybe even overstimulated, by her stroke of genius, the 42-year-old Turner finished with two bogeys, three pars and two birdies and wound up second when Kuehne got wet and dropped to third. "It's been really tough," said Turner, who was the LPGA's leading money winner in 1988 but hadn't finished among the top five at a tournament since the '95 Chick-Fil-A Charity Championship, "but I've never been a quitter, and golf has always been what I wanted to do." Her score of 11 under par would have won the 53 previous Opens.
If Inkster felt any pressure, it didn't show. From the 16th fairway she spotted Hank Kuehne in the gallery and kidded Kelli about her brother's "mean-looking sandals." Inkster asked Kelli how old Hank was (23) and then added, "Is he a good golfer?" Kelli laughed and said, "He's the U.S. Amateur champion."
Inkster made a face, as if she had just lost a round of Trivial Pursuit. But she didn't lose anything else on the way in—certainly not her composure. It wasn't until she had tapped in her putt for par on the final hole that she buried her face in her husband's shoulder and cried. "She's an emotional player," said Kuehne. "When she does great things, you see her fist pumping and she cheers herself on. But when she does bad things, she's very critical of herself. I catch myself doing the same sort of thing."
For Inkster, winning the Open capped a career that started with three consecutive U.S. Amateur titles in the early '80s and peaked in 1984, when she won her other two majors, the Dinah Shore and the du Maurier Classic. It made up for the Open that got away at Oakmont. "You want to feel the trophy?" she asked Brian, handing him the weighty token.