Following the U.S. Women’s Open is a tough task, but the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship Presented by P&G and its $2 million purse is more than ready for the challenge.
The 54-hole tournament marks the midway point of the LPGA’s 2014 season, and one talented player will be able to begin her Fourth of July celebration a bit early by hoisting the championship trophy on Sunday. The Tour takes a week off next week before heading to England for the RICOH Women’s British Open, the third of five majors on this season’s calendar.
That leaves the LPGA’s lone Arkansas event as the final tune-up before players pack their bags for the UK. World No. 1 Stacy Lewis, a University of Arkansas graduate, would love to pick up her 11th career Tour victory in her home state, and she would be the first American to claim the tournament title.
South Korea’s Inbee Park is the defending champion, Thailand’s Yani Tseng won back-to-back titles from 2010-11, Japan’s Ai Miyazato reigned supreme in 2012, and South Koreans Jiyai Shin and Seon Hwa Lee won in 2009 and 2008, respectively. The magic number each of the last three years has been 12-under-par, so any player taking the red numbers that low will have a great chance to add their name to the winner’s trophy.
With the exception of Shin, all past champions are returning this year, and they are joined in the field by 2014 tournament winners Paula Creamer, Cristie Kerr, Lydia Ko, Jessica Korda, Lewis, Anna Nordqvist, Park, Suzann Pettersen, Lizette Salas, Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie. A loaded field, having only three days to climb up the leaderboard and a solid six-figure pay day for the winner should set the stage for another great showdown.
Park defeated good friend So Yeon Ryu on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff to earn last year’s title, and players may need extra holes yet again – for the fourth time in seven years – to decide a winner. Pinnacle Country Club is a par-71, 6,389-yard track that gives the world’s best women’s golfers ample birdie opportunities, so red numbers should be the norm.
In addition to the trio of playoffs the tournament has seen in its first six years, the other three years, the championship was decided by a single stroke. So, every shot carries a huge weight in the three-day birdie barrage.
A win for Lewis would be a dream, but she’s not the only Razorback in the field. The tournament awarded sponsor exemptions to incoming junior Gabriela Lopez and recently graduated senior Emily Tubert, so cries of "Pig sooie!" could very well be rampant throughout the galleries.
The tournament benefits The First Tee of NW Arkansas and the Boys and Girls Club of Benton County and Washington County, so the always charity-minded LPGA stars will be doing great things to help the local community just by playing in the tournament and actively participating in tournament-week events.
Some Southern hospitality, coupled with great golf and a national TV audience is a perfect fit for the Tour between major championships, and it will no doubt be fun to watch.