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For 72 holes at the Nabisco Dinah Shore Invitational in Rancho Mirage, Calif. last week, Juli Inkster proved she was more than just a mettlesome match player who had won three consecutive U.S. Amateur titles. The 23-year-old LPGA rookie fashioned a gem of a 68 in Sunday's final round to tie the tour's leading money-winner and most consistent player, Pat Bradley, on an unyielding Mission Hills course. Then, on the first playoff hole, Inkster won the most important minimatch of her career and thus the richest tournament in women's golf.
Inkster earned $55,000 for the victory, and she could pull in $1 million more in bonus money by winning the J&B Scotch Pro-Am in Las Vegas this week. And—enter the voice of Don Pardo—yes Juli, there's more! Repeat that double in 1985 and you will receive...another three million dollars.
"It's like play money as far as we're concerned," said Inkster's husband, Brian, head pro at the Los Altos C.C. near Palo Alto. "Four million is such an unreal figure that I honestly don't think it's going to affect her." Juli, who's from Santa Cruz, Calif., had never played Mission Hills before the Dinah Shore, nor had she been to Las Vegas. "Sounds like a great place to win a million dollars," she said coolly.
Inkster shot 70-73-69 in the Dinah Shore's first three rounds and started the final 18 two strokes off the lead. Playing in the group directly ahead of Bradley, Inkster birdied the watery 487-yard, par-5 18th with a nearly perfect 70-yard sand wedge from the fairway and a brave three-footer.
Meanwhile, Bradley, who had been splitting fairways all week, began to have trouble controlling her graphite-headed driver. This sudden wildness began after her group was ordered to wait six minutes on the 15th tee to accommodate NBC, whose producers were afraid the tournament would end ahead of schedule (ironically, because of the sudden death the final credits ran before the final putts). She salvaged a par 4 from the rough on the 15th with a 20-foot putt, but bogeyed the 16th after driving into a grove of trees. Bradley almost lost the tournament outright on the 18th with a severe hook off the tee that was headed for a lake but hit a slender palm tree and bounded into the fairway. She hit a fine wedge to within eight feet of the pin but missed the birdie putt that would have beaten Inkster and finished with a 70.
Bradley quickly sealed her doom on the first playoff hole, the par-4 15th, with a duck-hooked drive that ended up in deep rough next to a hedge bordering the course. It took her three more shots to reach the green. Meanwhile, Inkster's elegant swing never faltered. She was down the middle with her driver and safely on with an eight-iron. Two putts from 35 feet and it was over.
Inkster, whose first, and only other, tour victory was last September's Safeco Classic in Seattle, has now won nearly $115,000 since she joined the LPGA circuit in August, putting her within reach of Nancy Lopez's first-year earnings record of $161,235 set in 1978. Although Inkster betrayed a trace of nervousness in thanking "all my parents" at the Dinah Shore victory presentation, to all appearances she had been as nerveless as any veteran in the playoff. "One-on-one is my cup of tea. I know exactly where I stand," said the 1980-82 amateur champ. Inkster is typical of the new breed of player joining the LPGA these days—with winning, not learning, uppermost in mind. Says tour veteran Amy Alcott: "It's the age of not being intimidated."
Still, coming into the $400,000 Dinah Shore—one of four designated major tournaments in women's golf—veterans like Bradley, not youngsters like Inkster, seemed best prepared for the pressure cooker. After seven tournaments in 1984, the 33-year-old Bradley lead the tour with a 71.25 stroke average, six top-10 finishes, nine rounds in the 60s and $73,635 in prize money. A die-hard Celtic fan from Westford, Mass., she was paired with John Havlicek in the Dinah Shore Pro-Am. Bradley putted poorly in her opening round, shooting a 75, but came back on Friday with a 66. After a third-round 69, Bradley said, "It flowed very well. I feel in control."
She started the final round tied at six under with JoAnne Carner, who had led after the second round, and Dale Eggeling, who had had only one top-10 finish in eight years' worth of majors but had played her last 27 holes at Mission Hills in 10 under par. Carner fought a pull hook all day and wound up with a 74 to tie for fifth. Perhaps it was just as well, because in the event of victory Big Momma had promised to throw not only herself and her bantamweight husband, Don, into the lake at the 18th green, but also her 255-pound caddie, Mike (Red) Hartcop. Eggeling hung tough until a bogey at 17 consigned her to third place.
After the round, Bradley was seen grimly discussing the imposed wait on 15 with TV producers Don Ohlmeyer and Larry Cirillo. However, she refused to publicly blame the network for her errant drives. "I was just a little anxious," she said.