Stacy Lewis returns to her roots as defending champion this week when the Walmart Northwest Arkansas Championship gets under way Friday through Sunday at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers.
Lewis spent five years at the University of Arkansas, after redshirting her freshman year as she recovered from back surgery to correct scoliosis. Lewis’ Arkansas roots are still deeply embedded as she’s maintained a close relationship with Arkansas women’s golf coach Shawna Estes-Taylor, who came to the U.S. Women’s Open last year to assist Lewis with short-game shots at Pinehurst No. 2. And in the offseason, Lewis returns the favor by returning to Fayetteville to act as a volunteer women’s golf coach for the team.
She served a dual role Monday, acting as both one of the world’s best players and also as a coach as she played a practice round with Arkansas junior Gabriela Lopez, who finished as the runner-up at the NCAA Championships.
Lewis sent Arkansas fans into an uproar a year ago with a birdie at the last for the win in front of her home fans. It was the second win here in the eight-year history of the event for Lewis as she also won in 2007 as an amateur when the tournament was rain shortened to 18 holes.
Inbee Park’s sixth career major championship win at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship also came with a return to the world No. 1 ranking. Park will be graced with the green bib for her caddie, signifying her presence as the world’s No. 1 player for the tournament this week. Lydia Ko had previously held the No. 1 spot since the first week of February but Ko missed the cut and Park won the tournament to regain her foot hold.
No. 1 is not a new spot for Park. She previously served 59 weeks as the world No. 1 from 2013 – 2014 and she was also No. 1 to begin the 2015 season, before Ko took it from her with a runner-up finish at the Coates Golf Championship to open the year.
Park has already won three events this year – the HSBC Women’s Champions, Volunteers of America North Texas Shootout Presented by JTBC, and KPMG Women’s PGA Championship – and she leads the standings for the Race to the CME Globe, money list, scoring average and Rolex Player of the Year honors.
Lydia Ko looks to start a new streak this week. After making the cut in her first 53 LPGA starts, Ko missed the cut at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship but will look to begin a new streak this week. It’s been a year of streaks for Ko, who posted 29 consecutive under par rounds early in the year to tie Annika Sorenstam’s record.
Ko, the No. 2 player in the world at just 18 years old, finished in a three-way tie for second a year ago here with Cristie Kerr and Angela Stanford, one shot back of Lewis. Ko went on to win the 2014 Race to the CME Globe and has already won twice in 2015.
The field for the tournament is deep and includes 17 of the Top 20 players in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings, 39 major wins of the combined field, 245 total wins of the combined field, the entire 2013 USA Solheim Cup Team and all 10 of the current top 10 USA Solheim Cup points earners.
Other notable players scheduled to vie for the $2 million purse include Paula Creamer, Michelle Wie, Cristie Kerr, Morgan Pressel, Lexi Thompson, Jessica Korda, Yani Tseng (2010 & 2011 Tournament Champion), Ai Miyazato (2012 Tournament Champion), and University of Arkansas golfer Gaby Lopez. Lopez will join the field as a sponsor’s exemption.
Tickets are $15 daily and $25 for a weekly pass and can be purchased at www.nwachampionship.com.