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Trip was Champion's (real) Challenge
Inkster makes it to Utah after wild, long trip

LEHI -- By the time she got to Utah, Juli Inkster was draggin'.

It was nearly 3 in the morning when the hottest golfer in the world straggled into the Marriott Hotel, following a whirlwind day in which she celebrated her historic LPGA Championship at Wilmington, Del., and made an adventurous tour across the country to Utah for the annual Champions Challenge.It was so late when Inkster arrived at her hotel room that Monday morning's USA Today with her picture plastered on the front page, was being delivered to the rooms in her hallway.

She read all about her history-making victory, which gave her a career Grand Slam, caught a couple hours of sleep, then got up for a pro-am Monday morning at The Golf Course at Thanksgiving Point.

When she met with the media at Thanksgiving Point some 12 hours later, she was still operating on two hours sleep, yet she cheerfully answered every question about her big victory the day before and her big year, which has vaulted her to the top of the women's golf scene.

"I haven't even had time to stop and reflect," she said. "I'm trying to sit back and enjoy it a little bit. It's been pretty overwhelming."

Inkster has always been one of the top women golfers since winning two major championships (Dinah Shore and du Maurier) as a rookie in 1984. She repeated at the du Maurier in 1989, but she went a whole decade between majors before winning the U.S. Open three weeks ago. She followed that up with the four-shot win at the LPGA, making her only the second wo- man, along with Pat Bradley, to accomplish the Grand Slam feat.

So what's the secret to her success this year?

"I don't know what I'm doing differently and hopefully I don't find out," she said with a laugh. But there are some reasons for her improved play.

For one thing, her family situation is a little more stable with her two girls, ages 9 and 5, in school now. During the past decade, Inkster has taken a lot of time away from golf to raise her family.

"I decided to re-dedicate myself to the game," she said. "It's easier now. I really enjoy the game and for the last year I re-focused on golf."

She also said she's learned to "finish" her rounds better. A great example of that came Sunday when she finished eagle-birdie-birdie to break away from a tie for the lead.

With her win Sunday, Inkster moved into first place on the LPGA money list with $952,944. She has four victories this year and shows no signs of letting up. She calls her stop in Utah "fun" and planned to enjoy her stay, even if she doesn't win the $125,000 first prize. She was just glad to make it at all after all the excitement of the previous day.

She had originally booked a 6 p.m. flight out of Philadelphia, not knowing she'd be in the final group of the day. But she didn't even finish her round until 6:15 and then did the obligatory trophy ceremony, news conference and volunteer party.

Then she cleaned out her locker, packed her bags, grabbed a sandwich and headed for the airport. When she realized she'd never make a connection through Chicago out of Philadelphia, she talked to Johnny Miller, who offered his plane to bring her out. It was supposed to leave at 8:30, but because of heavy air traffic, it didn't leave until 10:30. After a stop in Omaha to refuel, Miller's jet delivered Inkster to Utah in the middle of the night.

"This is a fun thing for me -- this is why I play golf," she said. "It's not like this is some big headache for me to be here."