State of the Hogs:

Razorbacks relish hometown exposure

By: Clay Henry
Published: Monday, June 27, 2016
Regina Plasencia (Arkansas Razorbacks) of Guadalajara, Mexico, 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
Regina Plasencia (Arkansas Razorbacks) of Guadalajara, Mexico, 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.

— College golf is a road game. Everything happens away from the Ozarks for the powerful Arkansas women’s golf team. It plays coast to coast, winning tournaments and earning national recognition as a regular member in top 10 polls.

Seldom do the Razorback golfers hear their fans call the Hogs. It all changed late Friday when the stadium came alive around the par-3 17th hole at Pinnacle Country Club at the end of a long, hot day. Alana Uriell, Regina Plasencia and Maria Fassi, sprinkled through the last four groups, got the best several hundred had left to end the first day of the Wal-Mart NW Arkansas Championship.

The Hog calls began as the UA players came through the tunnel to the tee at the 150-yard 17th, which is the loudest and perhaps the neatest atmosphere on the LPGA Tour.

It almost overwhelmed Uriell, the low player in the NCAA postseason at both the regional and the national championship. But she used it to finish strong with a birdie at the 18th despite a pumped-up hybrid second shot that bounced off the grand stand.

Uriell got up and down after a drop away from the plastic wall below the bleachers. The California product played a difficult shot off a severe downhill lie across one of the most sloped greens at Pinnacle to just 3 feet past the cup. She put that breaker in for the 1-under 70, best of the three current Razorback team members in the opening round.

It was a great ending to what had proved to be a tough putting day for the trio. Uriell held up under the pressure of the cheers from the home crowd, even teaching professional Megan Khang the drill as their group rolled up the hill to the 17th green at Pinnacle Country Club’s stadium setting.

“We don’t play in front of the home crowd in college golf,” Uriell said. “So we never get to hear our fans call the Hogs. We did today.

“To be honest, I was glad to get through there OK. It might be better to play in the morning before the crowds build up in the stands at No. 17.”

Uriell and Plasencia had earned the only two spots in Monday’s qualifier with 64 and 69, respectively. Fassi, who was No. 1 on the team in the spring, got in on a sponsor’s exemption.

They didn’t hole nearly as many putts on Friday, as Plasencia shot 72 and Fassi 73. That’s in the bottom half of the field, but they played late when the greens are bumpy and the heat was at its worst. The morning groups took advantage of cloud cover and true greens.

Fassi rallied on Saturday when the trio played in the cooler morning. She shot 70, for an even par 142, to miss the cutt by one. Placencia shot 71 for 143. Uriell slipped to 75 for 145.

“We held up OK,” Uriel said after the opening round. “There were opportunities for more birdies today. But I just didn’t hit it close enough, and I didn’t make enough putts. I was pleased to get that one at the end. I was hoping there was one waiting for me at the end of the day.”

The 17th was the treat, although Uriell wasn’t sure if it was going to be good or not.

“You have to contain your emotions,” she said. “And, we don’t play in anything like that. You don’t want it to get to you. Really, though, it was a great experience. The crowd gave me great energy. And, then to get the birdie at 18, that was a good way to end.

“I do think getting through 17 before the afternoon will be good tomorrow.”

And, it will be early for those three to get through the 17th. They start on the 10th tee so they’ll be through the stadium setting before lunch.

“I just tried to stay in the moment today,” she said. “Oh, my gosh, it was great. I grew up watching Paula Creamer and she was in the group in front. I was a kid watching her.

“I had never played in a pro tournament. This was just great. There were young kids coming up to me and old folks, too. They all gave me energy. I was slamming my driver.

“The energy they gave me at 17 was really something. I hope I gave them something back.”

There were nerves when she stepped to the range for the warm-up.

“It was awesome,” she said. “I tried to take it all in, look around. I had Megan Khang and Cheyenne Woods in my pairing and they were great, just what you’d expect from a professional.

“I tried to act like a professional, too. It was just a great experience.”

She got the Stacy Lewis treatment by the Arkansas fans at the 17th.

“I knew they would do the Calls,” she said. “They started when we got to the tee. Then, they did it again as we walked up the hill. I showed Megan how. That’s my first time to hear them call the Hogs for me.

“It was hard to play the 17th, but it worked out. I had a long putt, a high breaker and I got it to 3 feet. They called them again!”

The heat was tough.

“Yes, but I think the fans helped my endurance,” Uriell said. “You just kept getting energy.

“I know we could probably have done a little better, but we hung with the best. I tried to keep control of my emotions and my expectations. I told myself that the number one goal was to have fun and manage my emotions.”

It was home sweet home.

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