By Ken MacLeod
It’s a shame there will not be fans for the LPGA’s Walmart Northwest Arkansas Championship which begins Friday at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers. South Korean rookie Yujeong Son, who lived most of her formative years in Norman, would have had a strong following from Oklahoma there to watch.
Though it’s late August, this will just be Son’s fifth start in a maiden schedule shattered by numerous cancellations and delays due to COVID-19. She just returned from a two-week trip overseas to play in the Scottish Open and the Open Championship, her first real foray into traditional links golf. She made her first cut at the Scottish Open, collecting $8,791 for a tie for 33rd.
She then went two rounds without a birdie in howling wind and rain at the AIG Women’s Open at Royal Troon.
“I thought playing so long in Oklahoma I would be used to the wind, but this went to a whole other level,” Son said Tuesday after a practice round at Pinnacle. “I was hitting 3-woods into greens. I had chances coming down the back nine but I really felt like the wind affected my putting. I’ve got to get better at that.”
Those who remember Son winning just about every event she entered in Oklahoma from ages 12 to 16 fully expect her to improve. Among her accomplishments she won the Women’s Oklahoma Golf Association State Amateur Championship in 2014, 2015 and 2016, the only years she entered. She won the Class 6A state high school championship as a freshman, then was home schooled and played a national schedule for her final three years. She won the OGA Junior Amateur Championship the only two years she entered 2017 and 2018 and the WOGA Junior in 2014 and 2015 in addition to numerous Oklahoma Junior Golf Tour events. She is just 19 and already on the LPGA Tour, traveling the world.
“The players have been really welcoming to me,” said Son, whose idol growing up was Inbee Park. Son is certainly Americanized, but is a native South Korean and the family has moved back to South Korea. Certainly many of her heroes were from there. She has yet to play a round with Park in practice or a tournament but is looking forward to it.
“She is a really good role model for me. I love how she handles herself on the course and off. There’s a lot I can learn from her. I’ve met her but I’m looking forward to playing with her when I can.”
Son attended the Walmart Northwest Arkansas Championship several times as a junior and said it’s strange to play a practice round and see where all the grandstands and sky boxes would normally be sitting empty.
“That was a little weird walking around today,” she said. “I used to come here to watch this event and now it’s cool to be able to play in it. It’s too bad the fans can’t be here. The course is in perfect shape. I’m excited about playing this week.”
Son said her length and ball striking compare well with her new peers but her putting has been shaky. She has had one round in the 60s of her 10 rounds on tour so far, and that was her final round 69 in the Scottish Open. Once the birdie putts start to fall, she’ll start to move up leaderboards.
“I feel much more comfortable now then in the first event in Ohio,” she said. “My shots have been getting better, I’m hitting the ball better. Putting is the thing right now that separates me from the higher-ranked players. You’ve got to be able to convert putts and make birdies and I haven’t been doing a great job with that. But I’m working on it.”
As those who watched her stunning success in junior golf can attest, she’ll likely achieve her goal.
Walmart Northwest Arkansas Championship
Aug. 28-30, Pinnacle Country Club, Rogers
156 players; 54 holes, stroke play, cut to top-70 and ties after 36 holes
$2.3 million USD; winner’s portion is $345,000
TOURNAMENT SCORING RECORDS
18 holes: 61 (-10) So Yeon Ryu, second round, 2017
36 holes: 126 (-16), So Yeon Ryu, 2017
54 holes: 192 (-21), Nasa Hataoka, 2018
WHO’S IN THE WALMART NW ARKANSAS CHAMPIONSHIP FIELD
Walmart NW Arkansas Championship winners (five):
Nasa Hataoka (2018), Lydia Ko (2016), Na Yeon Choi (2015), Stacy Lewis (2014), Inbee Park (2013)
Ela Anacona (a), Maria Hoyos (a), Alexa Pano (a), Brooke Matthews (a)
*All times CST on Golf Channel
- Friday, August 28
7:00 PM – 9:00 PM (Tape Delay)
3:30-6:30 p.m. live stream on golfchannel.com and the GOLF App
- Saturday, August 29
4:00 PM – 6:00 PM (Live)
- Sunday, August 30
4:00 PM – 6:00 PM (Live)