The WalMart Northwest Arkansas Classic Presented by P&G is just the thing to transition out of the heady atmosphere of Pinehurst No. 2 and back to the Tour’s routine. The temperature’s down about 10 degrees in Rogers Arkansas and the golf course at the Pinnacle Country Club looks like, well, a golf course. Inbee Park’s the defending champion for this 7th playing of the 54-hole WalMart NW Arkansas Classic, but the field that’s challenging Park for this title is jam-packed with hot-playing, aggressive competitors and led by the newest US Women’s Open champ, Michelle Wie.
Michelle Wie’s Sunday night after-party at the Carolina Hotel aside, Arkansans know how to put on a party built around a golf tournament. There’s a two-day Pro-Am event on Wednesday and Thursday, a Saturday night public concert at the Arkansas Music Pavilion in Rogers headed up by Country & Western star Dierks Bentley, and there’s the WalMart Kids Center that’s open daily and providing endless opportunities for youth and family activities — a 9-hole putt-putt course, hitting nets, autograph stations, all designed as a place where “kids can be kids and be safe.”
Put the best women golfers in the world — the top 10 players on the LPGA Priority List, 96 of the top 100 players on the LPGA Official Money List, 9 of the 10 LPGA 2014 champions — into the mix and what you get is one terrific event.
World ranked number 1 and Razorback alumnae Stacy Lewis is teeing off with one goal: win tournaments. With 12 top-10 finishes so far this season, including wins at the North Texas LPGA Shootout and the ShopRite LPGA Classic and runner-up finishes at 4 other events, including the US Women’s Open last week, Lewis, whose short game glitters, is always a threat.
However, Michelle Wie and Lexi Thompson aren’t going to let Lewis walk away with this one Wie, with her win last spring at the LPGA LOTTE Championship and her first major victory last week at the US Women’s Open is smoking hot. Thompson nailed the earlier major title, the Kraft Nabisco Championship, and these two six footers can both slam the ball further down the fairway than any other players on Tour. They slugged it out at the Kraft Nabisco and Thompson won. They slugged it out again as the US Women’s Open and Wie won. Will they do it again?
Not if Rookie Lydia Ko, with her Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic victory in her bag, has anything to say about it. Ko’s looking to collect a second win and secure her spot in the rankings, and two other rookies, Denmark’s Line Vedel and Americans Jaye Marie Green and Kim Kaufman have been playing strong games. With a couple of good rounds any of them could put Lewis, Wie and Thompson on the defensive.
Gabby Lopez and Emily Tubert, both Lady Razorback golfers, will be playing on sponsors exemptions. Watch them! They’re both high performers who are on fast tracks to the LPGA Tour. And Monday qualifier, Thailand’s 19-year old Ariya Jutanugarn, is also capable of challenging the top of the board.
The WalMart NW Arkansas Classic field is promising some exciting competition, and Golf Channel will provide daily coverage of all three rounds: Friday, June 27, 9-11pm; Saturday, June 28 and Sunday, June 29, 5-7pm, all times ET. My colleagues and I at ProGolfNow will also follow the tournament closely and provide daily updates.
NOTE: An earlier edition of this post incorrectly listed Golf Channel coverage of the Friday, June 27 round as 9-11am. The correct time is 9-11pm. I apologize for this error and for any inconvenience it has created for LPGA fans.