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Juli Inkster named Sportwoman of the Year

Juli Inkster thinks with a little work, soccer star Mia Hamm might make it on the LPGA Tour someday.

But she knows Hamm is more interested in launching a women's professional soccer league before retiring to the golf course.

On Monday, Inkster and Hamm were honored as Sportswomen of the Year by the Women's Sports Foundation.

Maybe Inkster could swap golf lessons for soccer tips for her 5- and 9-year-old daughters.

"They loved following the World Cup," Inkster said. "They were all over it. They got to meet them."

Hamm, the most prolific scorer in women's soccer, was chosen in the team sport category. She helped the U.S. team capture the 1999 Women's World Cup before a record crowd of 90,185 fans at the Rose Bowl final July 10.

Inkster, who won five LPGA titles this season to earn a spot in the Hall of Fame, was selected in the individual category.

For Hamm, who has a 13 handicap, the next goal is establishing a women's pro soccer league after the 2000 Olympics.

"We want to see it happen, and 2001 is probably the best bet to launch it," Hamm said. "Hopefully, the success from last summer and the excitement for the Olympics will get this thing going."

Hamm isn't certain the women's pro league will be partnered with Major League Soccer. Unlike the NBA, which finances the WNBA, the men's soccer league does not have such deep pockets.

"I hope it can succeed on its own," Hamm said. "What we don't want is just for it to be around for a couple of years. We want it to endure the test of time and be around for my kids to play in. We want to make sure we do it right and get a solid foundation before we jump into anything."

But for now the players bask in the glow of the World Cup with the victory tour and a series of indoor soccer exhibitions that begins Friday in Pittsburgh. The 12-city tour against an international team ends Dec. 15 in Portland, Ore.

Inkster, who won the U.S. Open, is enjoying her best season in 17 years on the tour. She once went five years without a tour victory.

"I realized I could be a mom and play golf," she said. "It's a fine balance. I have a lot of support at home. It's not easy, but I am doing what I love to do."

After achieving her goal of winning the U.S. Open, Inkster won the LPGA Championship to become only the fourth woman to win the career Grand Slam, joining Pat Bradley, Louise Suggs and Mickey Wright. She gained the final point for the Hall of Fame last month with a victory in the Safeway Championship.

"When they changed the Hall of Fame criteria, I was like, `I need seven points, two majors and three tournaments, there's no way."' she said. "And that's just what I did this year."

The 39-year-old Inkster is vying with Karrie Webb for Player of the Year honors.

"Player of the Year is important, but getting in the Hall of Fame was my No. 1 thing," she said. "Whatever comes next is gravy."

Six of the eight surviving cofounders of the LPGA attended the Women's Sports Foundation dinner. Among those attending the festivities was Aileen Riggin Soule, a gold medalist diver at the 1920 Antwerp Olympics.