LPGA Notebook: Handful of big names absent from Wal-Mart NW Arkansas Championship

By: Jimmy Carter
Published: Wednesday, June 22, 2016
Stacy Lewis watches her tee shot off the 7th tee Tuesday June 21, 2016, during a practice round at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship tournament at Pinnacle Hills Country Club in Rogers.
Photo by Michael Woods
Stacy Lewis watches her tee shot off the 7th tee Tuesday June 21, 2016, during a practice round at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship tournament at Pinnacle Hills Country Club in Rogers.

ROGERS -- Stacy Lewis slid down a spot to No. 10 in the latest Rolex World Rankings, but she's still the unquestioned main event at this week's Wal-Mart NW Arkansas Championship.

The University of Arkansas graduate won the event in 2014 and will be followed by a throng of fans everywhere she treks at Pinnacle Country Club this week. That crowd may be even larger than normal with a number of notable names missing from the tournament field.

Inbee Park, the 2013 champ and current world No. 3, will miss the tournament with a lingering thumb injury. Lexi Thompson, the highest-ranked U.S player at No. 4, won't play because of a back injury. Suzann Petterson and Christina Kim, two of the more noticeable names in the field, also won't play. All have been regulars at the event in the past 10 years.

The dropouts mark one of the first times in recent history the tournament has had multiple stars absent. Still, the field boasts Lydia Ko and Brooke Henderson, ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in the world, respectively.

"When you attract the top two players in the world who are currently rewriting the history, the golf history books, that's great," tournament director Harry Hardy said.

Despite the absences, this week will feature seven of the top 10 players and 12 of the top 20 in the latest Rolex Rankings. The tournament's $2 million purse is again among one of the largest on the tour's schedule -- which, coupled with a unique level of community involvement throughout the week, makes the stop one to visit for players, even with majors parked two weeks on each side of the tournament and the Summer Olympics in August.

"The reception the players get year after year is second to none, so the players want to play each year," Hardy said. "And when they can't, when injury or scheduling doesn't permit it, we often get a phone call like, 'Hey, this is the reason I can't make it. I'm sad, but here's the reason.' Talking anecdotally with players, it's one of the first events they circle each year."

Even without several stars in the field, Lewis will attract a large following thanks to her Arkansas ties. And she's far from alone in that regard -- a highlight of this year's tournament is the strong Razorback presence. Lewis is joined by fellow Arkansas grad and LPGA rookie Gaby Lopez as Razorbacks-turned-pros in the field.

Looking to follow in their footsteps are Maria Fassi, who received this year's sponsor's exemption into the tournament field, as well as Alana Uriell and Regina Plasencia, both of whom became eligible via Monday's tournament qualifier. The most noteworthy is Fassi, who earned the exemption by finishing with a 72.80 scoring average as a freshman, the best among current nonprofessionals on the team and trailing only Lopez, a senior who played just nine rounds.

"That's a big number to have that many Razorbacks in one professional golf tournament," tournament chairman Jay Allen said.

Lewis among group in field for 10th straight year

Christina Kim was one of 15 players who played in the tournament in each of its first nine years, a group Stacy Lewis is also a part of.

Lewis again headlines the tournament this year, while she's slated to be joined by eight others who will also be in the field for the 10th straight year: Brittany Lincicome, Brittany Lang, Meena Lee, Becky Morgan, Jane Park, Reilly Rankin, Kris Tamulis and Sun Young Yoo.

"We have 10 years of history of players that might not be necessarily be household names, but with them coming to this event year after year, building relationships with people, staying at the golf course, the same fans coming out every year, they almost feel like they're coming home," tournament director Harry Hardy said.

Taste of NW Arkansas highlights upcoming events

The Taste of NW Arkansas will be held at the Wal-Mart AMP on Thursday at 6 p.m., marking the first of three tournament-related events at the AMP this week.

The venue will host the NW Arkansas Beer & Burger Festival at 6 p.m. Friday before Rachel Platten's 6:30 p.m. concert Saturday.

At Pinnacle Country Club, the Wal-Mart Kids Center will be located near the 17th green and will be open each day beginning at 10 a.m. There also will be Play Golf Zone Lessons held by local pros and First Tee members, open to all children on the left portion of the driving range Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Sports on 06/22/2016

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