WAL-MART LPGA NW ARKANSAS CHAMPIONSHIP:

Uriell, Plasencia qualify to give Razorbacks five in field

By: Jimmy Carter
Published: Tuesday, June 21, 2016
Arkansas golfer Alana Uriell hits from the third tee box on Monday, June 20, 2016, during the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship qualifying round at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers.
Photo by Jason Ivester
Arkansas golfer Alana Uriell hits from the third tee box on Monday, June 20, 2016, during the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship qualifying round at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers.

ROGERS -- Alana Uriell was a bit stunned when she holed her chip shot from a greenside bunker for a birdie on the fifth hole during Monday's qualifier for the Wal-Mart NW Arkansas Championship.

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Regina Plasencia (Arkansas Razorbacks) of Guadalajara, Mexico, putts on the second green Monday during the Wal-Mart NW Arkans... + Enlarge

"It was my first sand shot of the day," Uriell said. "Didn't even practice going into this."

She wound up in another bunker on No. 6 and again reached for her 58-degree wedge. But not before her caddie offered a prediction.

"He was like, 'Oh, you're not going to use your putter. You're just going to chip it in.' And I was like, 'Oh, ha ha, sure,' " Uriell said.

He was right. Uriell holed a second consecutive sand shot for a second consecutive birdie at Pinnacle Country Club.

Uriell, an Arkansas junior, was at even par entering the fifth hole, but the back-to-back birdies sparked her round, and she pieced together a 7-under-par 64 to win the qualifying round and earn a spot in this weekend's tournament.

A group ahead of her, Razorbacks teammate Regina Plasencia birdied three consecutive holes on the back nine en route to a 2-under-par 69 to finish second, claiming the final qualifier spot to best 15 others. That means there will be five current or former Razorbacks in the field, as they join Stacy Lewis, LPGA rookie Gaby Lopez and teammate Maria Fassi, who earned a sponsor's exemption.

Plasencia attempted to qualify the past two years, but failed to make the main event after shooting a 72 and 74, respectively. Birdies on Nos. 13 through 15 made this year's outcome different.

"I just knew that they were going to fall," Plasencia said of her putts on the back-nine charge. "I wasn't really pushing it or pressuring myself to make stuff. I was like, 'You're hitting the ball great, so they're going to fall. You're a good putter, so don't worry about it.' I never doubted that I was going to get my birdies."

Uriell posted the day's low score in her first foray into trying to qualify for a professional event. She didn't shy away from the moment, offsetting a bogey on the par-3 third after she hit her tee shot in the water with eight birdies. She'd already more than locked up her spot in the tournament by the time she knocked her second shot on the uphill par-5 18th to within 20 feet, which led to a round-capping birdie tap-in.

None of Uriell's past experiences at the course compared to what wound up being arguably the best round of her life.

"Not at all like today," Uriell said. "I've only played here twice and then the practice round [Sunday]."

Uriell, Plasencia and a few others anxiously waited behind the 18th green for the final three groups to finish, to see if Plasencia's score would hold up and allow her to join her teammates in the field. They didn't leave disappointed, ensuring the largest Arkansas contingent in the 10 years the tournament has been held.

"It'll be just amazing to be alongside my fellow Razorbacks, like Stacy and Gaby," Uriell said.

Sports on 06/21/2016

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