WAL-MART LPGA NW ARKANSAS CHAMPIONSHIP:

LPGA Tour event a boon to Hogs’ recruiting

By: Chip Souza
Published: Wednesday, June 22, 2016
Maria Fassi, University of Arkansas golfer, watches her tee shot off the 10th tee as she plays a practice round Tuesday June 21, 2016, at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship tournament at Pinnacle Hills Country Club in Rogers.
Photo by Michael Woods
Maria Fassi, University of Arkansas golfer, watches her tee shot off the 10th tee as she plays a practice round Tuesday June 21, 2016, at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship tournament at Pinnacle Hills Country Club in Rogers.

ROGERS -- Hog calls figure to be plentiful this week as five current or former members of the Arkansas women's golf team will be in the field for the 10th Wal-Mart NW Arkansas Championship.

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Maria Fassi, University of Arkansas golfer, practices her swing on the driving range Tuesday at the Wal-Mart NW Arkansas Cham... + Enlarge

Stacy Lewis, the former No. 1 player on the LPGA Tour and the 2014 tournament winner, set the tone for Arkansas' connection to this tournament. Lewis has been a mainstay in the field since the first year in 2007 when she carded the lowest score in the rain-shortened event.

Hogs In The Field

There will be five current or former Arkansas women’s golfers in the field for this week’s Wal-Mart NW Arkansas Championship tournament at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers:

Stacy Lewis

Gaby Lopez

Maria Fassi

Alana Uriell

Regina Plasencia

Over the past 10 years, the tournament and the Arkansas golf program have formed a partnership that has created opportunities for Razorback golfers to play alongside the best female golfers in the world. Each year, the field reserves a spot in the tournament field for a sponsorship exemption for an Arkansas golfer, as well as spots in the Monday qualifying tournament.

Freshman Maria Fassi is this year's sponsor exemption. She'll be joined by Alana Uriell and Regina Plasencia, who both earned spots at Monday's qualifier, and LPGA Tour rookie Gaby Lopez along with Lewis, who is currently 17th on the money list.

Fassi, a native of Pachuca, Mexico, said the connection with the Arkansas golf program and this LPGA event was a factor in her decision to play for Razorback coach Shauna Estes-Taylor.

"I don't know many schools that have the opportunity that we have here, so definitely that was a thing that Shauna had in her favor," Fassi said. "Being able to play at an LPGA event is always great, and doing it as a collegiate player is even better because you learn a lot from the pros."

Fassi played in the U.S. Open last year, so she's had a taste of playing alongside the LPGA players. She missed the cut by one shot, so this week she's hopeful to advance to Sunday's final round in this tournament in front of her Arkansas fans.

"I know what I'm capable of," Fassi said. "Being at the U.S. Open and just missing the cut by one made me realize I can do it. So coming into this week, I'm like, 'I know they're the pros, I know it's just my second time playing with them, but I know that I can do it.' I know I have what it takes to be here."

Lopez, who has earned a spot on Mexico's Olympic team for later this summer, comes into the tournament ranked 142nd this season and has earned $128,358.

Last year, Lopez used the sponsorship exemption to finish tied for 29th in the NW Arkansas Championship, finishing 6-under (73-65-69). She earned her tour card after finishing tied for 10th at the Final Stage qualifying event.

"I love it," Lopez said of her experience so far on the pro tour. "It takes the best out of me every week."

Lopez said the biggest difference between playing collegiately and professionally is handling the time schedule.

"You don't have anyone behind you telling you what to do," she said. "But me, coming from Mexico to college, I had to be a little bit more independent. And it's good that I have my mom traveling with me the first year. It's such a blessing to have her next to me to handle all the travel planning and hotels and flights and everything."

The relationship with the LPGA is a big recruiting tool, Estes-Taylor said. The opportunity for players to earn their way into a professional event is something she can offer to potential recruits that not many other colleges can offer.

"Absolutely this is part of the recruiting pitch," Estes-Taylor said. "We try and train our players to play at the highest level. Our system is in place to allow them to play on the LPGA Tour if they use our resources. I really believe this event allows them to develop in that aspect. This is something that is unique for our university and something that is very special for our program."

Having two full-time members of the LPGA Tour in Lewis and Lopez is a huge advantage in recruiting top players to the Arkansas women's golf program, Estes-Taylor said.

"I think when they see examples like Stacy and Gaby, it's proof and evidence that we are doing things right," Estes-Taylor said. "I'm just really proud of of the way they represent us and how they tell other people how much they love this place. When you have that, that's a great recruiting tool in itself."

Sports on 06/22/2016

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