Juli Inkster has had a delightful 2 1/2 weeks since winning the U.S. Open in Mississippi with a record 16-under-par total. She is also not complaining about the $315,000 she earned, but does wonder about the disparity between her champion's check and the $625,000 the U.S. Golf Association awarded Payne Stewart for winning the men's Open Sunday.

"There is a discrepancy, and it's big," Inkster said on the eve of the LPGA Championship at DuPont Country Club. "Am I complaining about winning $315,000? No, I'm not. But I'd like to see the gap narrowed. I won the biggest check in the history of women's golf, but it's kind of discouraging we're not playing for as much money."

The gap remains huge between the two tours. The men will play for about $132 million this year, an increase of $34 million over a year ago because of a four-year, $600 million network and cable TV deal. The women are playing for a record $34 million in 1999, and this week, the LPGA is buying time from CBS to get its third major of the year on the network's weekend schedule.

This weekend's LPGA telecast will go up against the PGA Tour's Buick Classic on ABC. The LPGA also will not have Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez to help boost the ratings. She will undergo outpatient arthroscopic surgery Thursday to remove torn cartilage from her right knee and will be out of competition for about a month. Today she was on crutches after an MRI exam revealed the injury.

"I've always believed that if you're hurt, you definitely have to fix it," said Lopez, a three-time winner of the LPGA Championship who teared up when asked about not being able to play in one of her favorite events. "The last few weeks, I've struggled a little bit. The way my knees have been bothering me, it's kind of a relief there's something in there. I don't want to play in pain. I'd rather retire and go home. But I can fix what's going on."

Inkster, meanwhile, is hardly naive about the difference in wages earned by men and women. She knows it's all about television, "and we really don't have the TV. . . . I really enjoy what I do. I get paid great for what I do. I'm really not complaining. I just feel we have such a great product, I think sometimes we get shortchanged. There's two sides to the story, but I think we should be playing for as much as the men."

Some argue that should be the case in any event run by the USGA, the sport's national governing body. If the U.S. Tennis Association can give equal prize money for men and women at their Open, why not the USGA?

David Fay, executive director of the USGA, said during the women's Open that it is simply a matter of economics. The men draw far larger crowds paying higher ticket prices, attract more corporate tents and attract more in television rights fees.

Some women like the trend they see in the LPGA's increasing purses and insist they have no complaints. Karrie Webb, who has won five times this year, believes the women will never catch up. "It's just the way it is," she said.

"I think if we keep going in a positive, forward direction, that's all we can ask for," she said. "I just think we're setting our goals too high to actually think we can play for $4 million a week. I think that's quite ridiculous that they play for that much money. I mean, how much money do you need? I've made enough money [about $3.5 million in earnings] in 3 1/2 years to live very nicely for the rest of my life."

Inkster said she believes it's time for corporate America to support the LPGA the way it does its male counterpart.

"I think we [in the LPGA] need TV revenue, that's where it's at," she said. "The only way to get it is that male CEOs have to get off their behinds and watch us play a little bit. . . . [The Senior PGA Tour] upsets me. I don't think there's anything wrong with them making money. But they play three days, there's no cut. The thing is, I couldn't even name the top 10 money-winners on the senior tour. We have so much to offer, but we get the short straw. I don't know how we change it."

Inkster, who has never won an LPGA Championship, has other things on her mind this week. She is trying to join Pat Bradley as the only women to win the modern Grand Slam with at least one victory in all four women's majors -- the Dinah Shore, U.S. Open, LPGA Championship and du Maurier Classic. She also needs only three points, for a minimum of 27, to enter the LPGA Hall of Fame under new eligibility guidelines adopted last year.

Inkster, whose best finish in this tournament was a tie for third in 1986, believes she has the game and the confidence to prevail this week.

"But there are a lot of good players for this week," she said. "I'm going to have to have another great week to do it. . . . But I think I can do it. I have as good a chance as anyone else out there right now."