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Golf Tidbits: Inkster's return gives the LPGA a boost

As if things weren't going well enough this year for the LPGA, the tour welcomes back a Hall of Famer this week.

Juli Inkster is competing for the first time since November, at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship. In the offseason, she had elbow surgery in which she had a tendon reattached and the ulnar nerve was moved.

Sounds a little painful, no?

To indicate Inkster's toughness, she knew her elbow was injured late last season. Despite that, she tied for fourth in her final start and that was her best finish of the season.

Inkster tried blood spinning to see if that would help the elbow, but it didn't make the injury better, so she had the surgery.

During her downtime, Inkster spent plenty of time with her family and enjoyed a pair of graduations for two of her children.

"I missed golf. I missed the competition, I missed the playing, I missed working towards something, but also it was great being home," Inkster said in her news conference on Wednesday. "Once I could start chipping and putting and stuff, it kind of was better."

Now, the 31-time winner returns to the LPGA Tour. It seems hard to believe, but she has just one win since the start of the 2004 season.

She gets thrown right back into the fire this week, literally and figuratively. Temperatures will reach at least the mid-90s all week in Rogers, Ark., and she is paired with two of the top Americans players -- Michelle Wie and Stacy Lewis, a University of Arkansas alum.

"Good thing they just paired me with a couple no-names," Inkster joked.

For someone who has played on the last eight U.S. Solheim Cup teams, Inkster will likely thrive on the pressure of playing with a pair of stars.

Inkster, who might not be back to full strength, had set a goal for this to be her first tournament back so she could get some action in before next week's U.S. Women's Open.

Thanks to a great physical therapist and no setbacks, Inkster is right on schedule to meet her goals.

Going forward, she also hopes to the Evian Masters in a couple weeks. After that, she will re-assess her schedule depending on how her elbow reacts to being back in competitive golf.

And her fellow players are glad to have her back.

Last week's winner Brittany Lang said, "Especially with her Solheim Cup past and potentially being a captain, I think it could only help the tour and I know we're all happy to see her back out."

Inkster played in the last Solheim Cup and was an assistant to team captain Rosie Jones. With this being her first event of the season, Inkster has fallen behind in the points race to earn her way onto a ninth straight team.

Is she fails to do that, it would be no surprise if she was again an assistant to 2013 captain Meg Mallon. Inkster is likely the odds-on favorite to lead the 2015 team.

But for now, let's enjoy Inkster's return to the LPGA Tour and enjoy watching her compete against players, some of whom are more than half her age.

LOVE NAMES ASSISTANT CAPTAINS

In what came as no surprise to anyone, U.S. Ryder Cup captain tabbed Fred Couples and Mike Hulbert as his assistant captains.

Couples let the news slip at the Memorial that he was going to be Love's assistant, but it wasn't officially announced until Wednesday.

It comes as no surprise as Couples has led the last two U.S. Presidents Cup teams and is a longtime friend of Love's.

Of the seven Ryder or Presidents Cups they've played together, only once were they not paired and that was at the 1993 Ryder Cup. In the other six, they combined for a 6-4-1 record.

As for Hulbert, he didn't play on either team, but was an assistant for Curtis Strange on the 2002 Ryder Cup team. So his selection may seem a little odd.

But as Love explained, "My first pairing on the PGA Tour when I was an amateur was Mike Hulbert and Ken Green. So even before I was on Tour, he's been one of my friends, and I've stayed with him hundreds of times in hotel rooms and houses across the Tour, and he's been a close, close friend of mine for a long time."

Love, along with Couples and Hulbert, will work together to come up with two more assistant captains. I doubt Michael Jordan is in the mix, but you never know.

Jordan was an assistant for Couples in the Presidents Cup and, like Love, is a University of North Carolina alum.

MINI-TIDBITS

* It started as the Ben Hogan Tour, then became the Nike Tour, then was the BUY.com Tour, then changed to the Nationwide Tour. Now, it is the Web.com Tour. Welcome to golf's minor leagues.

* This week's AT&T National seems to be one of the bigger events on the PGA Tour, thanks in part to Tiger Woods being the tournament host. However, the last major championship winner in the field this week is 2009 PGA Champion Y.E. Yang. Maybe the players just don't like Congressional, but when the event was at Aronimink the last two years, the fields were not particularly strong, either. Maybe Tiger just haven't the pull most people think he does with the other players.