As they prepared to tee off today in the final round of the LPGA Championship, Juli Inkster walked up to her friend and playing partner, Meg Mallon, smiled and said, "Megger, let's have a good one today."
Four hours later, Inkster finished off a grand one, going eagle-birdie-birdie on her last three holes and becoming the second woman to win all four major championships in the modern era -- the coveted career Grand Slam.
Inkster, who won the U.S. Women's Open this month, said Saturday night that she felt she still had her best round in her. Then she came out this afternoon on an overcast, steamy day at DuPont Country Club and shot a sizzling 6-under 65 for a four-shot victory that included nine one-putt greens in her last 12 holes. She ended at 16-under 268, one off the tournament record set by Betsy King when she won the 1992 title at Bethesda Country Club.
"I can't comprehend it. I don't know what I was doing out there," Inkster said. "It's been an awesome year, and for once in my life I'm speechless. They just kept going in and I just kept saying, `Thank you, thank you very much.' "
With her 17th consecutive under-par round, Inkster earned $210,000 for her fifth major title, following her first U.S. Women's Open three weeks ago at Old Waverly in West Point, Miss. She set an Open record at 16 under and has played three of the LPGA Tour's four majors in an astounding 37 under, including a sixth-place finish at the Dinah Shore in March. This month, she has played three events at 42 under.
By winning the career Grand Slam, Inkster matched Louise Suggs (1957) and Mickey Wright (1962), who did it in a slightly different major format that changed in 1983. Pat Bradley completed the task in 1986.
Inkster's 22nd pro victory and fourth this season left her one point short of the 27 needed for the Hall of Fame. If she wins again, she's in. If she's named player of the year -- she has a slim 8.34-point lead over five-time winner Karrie Webb -- she's in. And if she wins the scoring title, she's in.
As well as she finished, Inkster was not exactly exhibiting a Hall of Fame game early in her round. On the front nine, she looked frustrated after missing birdie putts of five feet at No. 2 and eight feet at No. 6. From then on, though, she seemed to zone in on the cup.
She had four critical saves of par, making a tough, seven-foot putt at the seventh hole that she said "really got me going." She birdied the next two holes for a two-shot lead at the turn, then saved par again with a five-footer at the 10th, a 10-footer at 13 and an eight-footer at the 14th. Without those round-rescuing putts, her late heroics might never have happened.
"What Juli did out there was incredible," said Mallon, one of Inkster's best friends, who was in tears as they hugged on the final green. "Who goes eagle-birdie-birdie on the last three holes of a major championship? It seems like we never get enough credit out here. I don't think we're boring. It's been a dream ride and she's on a great high. I'm so proud of her."
The breakfast of champions was French toast at the Pennsylvania home where the Inksters set up camp last week. Juli cooked and washed dishes for 11 people, including her husband, Brian, and their two children, 9-year-old Hayley and 5-year-old Cori, all of whom were here today.
Inkster needed a little help from the rest of the field, and up until her final three-hole sprint, it appeared as if a playoff was possible. In the end, though, Sweden's Liselotte Neumann, a former Open champion, finished alone in second at 12-under 272, with third-round co-leader Nancy Scranton (70) and Australia's Mardi Lunn (66) tied for third at 273. Cristie Kerr (71), also a co-leader after 54 holes, was tied for fifth with first-round leader Rosie Jones (70) at 10 under.
Playing two groups ahead of Inkster and Mallon, Neumann put heat on Inkster when she birdied her first three holes on the back nine to get to 11 under, then made birdie at the 465-yard 16th to push into a tie at 12 under. But she made pars on the last two holes, then watched Inkster blow the event wide open by playing her last three holes in 4 under.
"I felt really good when I made the birdie at 16," Neumann said. "I was right in the hunt. But it's hard to put pressure on someone who is playing that well."
Inkster, 39, never has played like this in her life, even if she did win three U.S. Women's Amateur titles, then won two majors -- the Dinah Shore and the du Maurier Classic -- in her first full season in 1984.
"This is something I always wanted to do," Inkster said of the Grand Slam. "I won the first two real quick, and I didn't think it would be this tough."
Her final dash to the title began with a perfectly hit tee shot at the 16th, 232 yards from the flag. That was followed by a 5-wood that stopped 18 feet from the hole. When her eagle putt fell in, she said, "It was electrifying.
"The crowd went crazy, I went crazy, and then I had to go to 17 and hit again. I knew I had a two-shot lead at that point, and I knew that three would be better."
At the 156-yard 17th, her 8-iron shot stopped three feet from the cup. She made that birdie putt for a three-shot lead, moving to 15 under.
Inkster said she had gone too fast on her four-shot victory stroll up 18 at the Open, and this time she wanted to slow down and savor the moment. It got even better when she was safely on the green in two, 20 feet from the hole.
"The 18th was like putting into a bucket -- I just knew it was going in," she said. "To cap a tournament like that, with everyone around . . . It's just incredible."
CAPTION: Juli Inkster celebrates with a twist after birdieing the 18th hole to clinch her first LPGA Championship.