The sentimentalists demanded that a woman on the verge of retirement should be the star turn at the Ricoh Women's British Open, although, on the first day here yesterday, it was the 48-year-old Juli Inkster rather than 37-year-old Annika Sorenstam soaring up there on the leader board. Still, if Sorenstam ever wants evidence there is a professional career after childbirth then Inkster is living, multitasking proof of that fact.
In fact, in the last two decades Inkster has shown that a mother can operate at the highest level at the same time as doing all the worrying and scurrying of the main carer. Her two daughters – now 18 and 14 – happen to be back in the family's home in America this week, so missed her opening seven-under round of 65, but for the majority of their youth were there on the road with working mum. And how they made her aware of their presence.
"I remember once, I think it was in Portland, where my youngest, Cori, had an ear infection and a fever of about 104," said the seven-times major winner. "So I took her to an emergency room about midnight and got back from the emergency room about 7.30am. That morning I had a 9.20am tee time." Inkster cannot recall how she fared – "it was all a fog"– but the memory does linger of the difficulty of those days. "Annika wants a family and she doesn't think she can have a family and play the quality of golf she's used to," Inkster said. "It was hard for me to play, having young kids out here. So I can see where she's coming from."
Inkster went on to announce: "I plan to finish out this year and then re-evaluate – but I'm close to giving it up." That will then be that for the popular Californian, who would become the oldest major winner in the female game should she carry on the form of this bogeyless magnificence. Yet she also feels that this might represent finito for Sorenstam, despite the Swede leaving the possibility of a future return open. "I don't think Annika could come back out here and finish 12th on the money list and live with herself," Inkster reasoned. "Me, I'm OK with that."
As she was saying it, the Swede was stomping off the 18th green justifying the statement. Sorenstam has rarely appeared so keen to retire. "I was looking forward to a wonderful day, but I've never made as many bogeys as I have the last three months and it's driving me crazy," she said after a 72. "I don't know what to do. I can't post something low. It seems like I can't play 18 holes."
At least the player who succeeded her as world No 1 is still within her sights. Mexico's Lorena Ochoa uncharacteristically finished bogey-bogey for a three-under 69, although, at stages, the defending champion's swing did appear ominously sweet.
For the home crowd, Johanna Head set the early pace with a 66. The 35-year-old's twin sister, Sam, is also in the field, but currently it is Ian Poulter who is her soulmate. Her husband, Terry Mundy, caddies for the flamboyant Englishman and the connection clearly does not end there. "It's Ian's manager, Paul Dunkley, who is mentoring me, but I do get along very well with Ian," said Head, who, like her friend, is based in Orlando. "He's great." No argument on that score from Poulter.