Jimmy Carter is a sports reporter for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Golf: LPGA Benefits UA Program
Stacy Lewis (left) and Arkansas head coach Shauna Estes-Taylor speak during a news conference at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers during the pro-am on Wednesday, June 27, 2012, as part of the Wal-Mart NW Arkansas Championship.
ROGERS -- Arkansas women's golf coach Shauna Estes-Taylor and Stacy Lewis were roommates last week in a rented North Carolina house during the U.S. Women's Open.
Estes-Taylor traveled to Pinehurst No. 2 to help Lewis, a UA grad and the world's No. 1 ranked LPGA player, with her short game for the major championship.
Arkansas Golfers In NW Arkansas Championship Field
Player^Tournament Entry^UA Class/Graduation Year
Stacy Lewis^LPGA Tour member^2008 grad
Emily Tubert^sponsor’s exemption^2014 graduate*
Gaby Lopez^sponsor’s exemption^junior
Summar Roachell^qualifier participant^freshman
Regina Plasencia^qualifier participant^sophomore
- professional debut
This week, Lewis came to Estes-Taylor, returning to the area where she played her college golf to compete in the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.
Lewis' Arkansas ties are always front and center when she returns for the tournament. But she's not the only Razorback who has benefited from having a top-flight LPGA event less than 30 minutes from campus at Pinnacle Country Club.
Since its inception, the LPGA event has provided a valuable opportunity for Arkansas golfers to compete against pros. Players take advantage of sponsor's exemptions on an annual basis to deserving Razorbacks standouts.
"I feel very lucky that we get the opportunity to allow our players to get involved with this event," Estes-Taylor said. "Most of them have the dream of playing the LPGA after school, so there's no greater way for them to measure and test their game than to be a part of this.
"It's a special week for us."
This week is especially significant for recently graduated Razorbacks Emily Tubert.
Tubert, a three-time All-American, used a sponsor's exemption to play in the NW Arkansas Championship as an amateur multiple times during her college career. But this week she utilized the exemption to make her professional debut at a tournament less than 20 miles from her college campus.
"It's amazing that it is so close," Tubert said. "Fifteen, 20 minutes from campus we have this LPGA event. But even more so than the location, the fact that the tournament provides an opportunity to the team, that they make an effort and they really give us a chance."
And this year is perhaps the most involved Arkansas' team has been in the tournament. Estes-Taylor led a junior golf clinic at the course Thursday, while half of Arkansas' team from this spring had the opportunity to compete in the tournament.
Tubert and all-Southeastern Conference selection Gaby Lopez were granted sponsor's exemptions into the field. Lopez, like Tubert, has played in the tournament before.
She made her second appearance this weekend after missing the cut following her freshman season last year. She showcased her growth in the first round by shooting a 1-under par 70.
"It's another huge experience for me to learn from my experience," Lopez said. "I feel sharp. I feel more prepared than last year. Mentally prepared. Emotionally prepared. So I think that's good for me."
Summar Roachell and Regina Plasencia both played in the Monday qualifying tournament. Neither were able to nab one of the two qualifier spots, but it was a valuable experience, especially for Roachell, who's played in the qualifier three straight years and also played in the pro-am Wednesday.
"I'm just grateful for the opportunity to be here and play in such an awesome event here in our back yard," Roachell said. "This is my third time to play this and I can really tell that my game has grown in the three years that I've played here, just having the experience."
Estes-Taylor can put the tournament's reputation for being one of the biggest on Tour to use when on the recruiting trail, pairing it with Lewis' standing as far-and-away the top former college player currently playing on the Tour to create a big-program feel when pitching the school to recruits.
"Pinnacle is one of the facilities we show (to recruits)," Estes-Taylor said. "We talk about the LPGA event and its importance in showcasing our home. What greater way than to have The Golf Channel and everyone tuning in to Northwest Arkansas and gaining notoriety for our area and university."
Estes-Taylor has spent the weekend doing a lot of walking back and forth between the three groups Lewis, Tubert and Lopez are playing in.
But she's not complaining. Neither is anyone else from Arkansas.
The tournament has been good to the program.
"Yes, we have an event in Northwest Arkansas, but they don't have to be as generous as they are," Tubert said. "So thank you to everyone in the tournament that makes it possible for us. Thank you for connecting with the U of A golfers and giving us an opportunity to tee it up with the best in the world."
Sports on 06/29/2014