Saturday, September 13, 2009 - Second Round
You know it's been a successful LPGA event thus far if a golf tournament in the south on a football Saturday draws a big gallery! The Arkansas Razorbacks had an off date this weekend, so the fans showed up en mass for a perfect afternoon of golf at Pinnacle Hills in Rogers. The weather was again a little overcast with a slightly gusty wind to test the skills of the pros. But it was a great day in NWA for the LPGA, with fans young and old from all walks of life supporting this wonderful event and exposing a whole new generation to this sport we love.
Since my shift as a walking scorer today didn't start until the afternoon, I slept in a little and didn't arrive at the course until after 9 a.m. By that time, half of the field had started their rounds with the leaders going off of hole #1 at 9:05 a.m. The morning papers had provided great coverage of the tournament, showcasing Tour Rookie, Sandra Gal, from Germany, on the front page of the sports extra edition. The opportunity to witness another rising star among these pros brought a number of new fans to the gallery.
I watched several groups make the turn at the tenth tee with lots of great shots just prior to the onset of the afternoon wind gusts. While hanging around the practice putting green, I noticed several people decked out in University of Oklahoma attire, and being a fellow Sooner, I had to inquire who they were following. It turns out Lucy Nunn, one of the Arkansas Lady-backs is from Lawton, Oklahoma. Her parents and several family friends were on hand to show their support. Her mom was quick to note, "She was Sooner born, but she claims Arkansas as home now." Of course, following her round today, Lucy assured me that both Oklahoma and Arkansas are home for her. With a quick hug from mom and dad, she hit her first shot off the tee today right down the middle. Lucy finished her round at +4 for the day and +8 for the tourney, so she'll be "watching rather than playing tomorrow, but that's OK," as she assured me at the end of the day.
I also had a fun conversation with Tom and Karen, who were serving as a host family this week for LPGA pro, Jill McGill. They told me, "This is as good as it gets," to be able to get to know a pro on a personal level and see how she spends her down time after a hard day at the course. I understand there was an active round of Wii-Fit after dinner last night, and there might be a video with great dialog that could surface at any time. Many of the tour's professionals appreciate the opportunity to stay with a host family rather than in a hotel each week. Jill's caddy was grateful to be able to do his laundry somewhere other than a hotel laundromat. It's amazing how the comforts of home can be taken for granted by those of us who don't travel every week for a living.
Fellow Sooners, Allen and Lynda from Joplin, Missouri, came down for the day to visit with friends in Rogers and to follow Natalie Gulbis on her round. Although Lynda did hope that Natalie would understand if she followed only a few holes so she could take advantage of the mall across the interstate from the golf course. I even heard that a few of the pros made sure to visit some of their favorite shops after their rounds on Friday. After all, we women do appreciate a good sale!
There are lots of volunteers, like myself, who have generously donated their time to help with the logistics of this event. I'm so proud of the hospitality shown at nearly every golf hole by marshals, greenside reporters, and even those folks who restock the water and remove the trash. What an operation this must be to coordinate. Hats off to the committee and the hundreds of folks who organize and carry out this event!
Tour veteran, Lori Kane from Canada, was quick to offer her thoughts about playing at Pinnacle Hills. "The staff and fans in Arkansas are thumbs up," she noted as she headed to the start of her round. That sentiment was echoed by other players throughout the week as I visited over the outstretched arms of countless children and adults who anxiously waited for autographs from these amazing athletes. One such youngster, however, collected his very first autograph at this event.
Parents Ben and Amanda were relaxing on the patio behind the clubhouse late this afternoon with their 16 month-old son, Tucker. When I asked how their day had been, they were eager to share their story. Tucker's very first autograph came today from a player whose name they'd not been able to catch, and she was so friendly that they wanted to be sure to remember her. I noticed the signature on Tucker's cap belonged to rookie, Jessica Shepley, who I'd scored for the previous day. "I'm sure she will be our favorite player to watch for from now on," noted Ben. Amanda and young Tucker had spent the day at the course, but Ben was unable to join them until the afternoon since he had a previous commitment to play in a charity golf tournament this morning in Fayetteville. He said he'd be sure to get the dates on his calendar for next year's event at Pinnacle Hills in plenty of time so he could be sure to catch the whole show from now on. (We've converted another one, ladies.)
My round today was scoring for Il Mi Chung, Jackie Gallagher-Smith, and Jamie Hullett. They all started the day at 3 over par and were hoping to make a move up the leader board in order to be able to play on Sunday. However, judging the cross-winds and dealing with some pretty difficult pin-placements today kept that from happening. We were sorry to lose Il Mi at the turn as she suffered an injury to her wrist on the 8th hole we played, and was in obvious pain for her 9th hole. Once she chose to withdraw, our threesome became a twosome, which caused a bit of a change in rhythm that may have been an additional adjustment for Jackie and Jamie on the back nine (although they would never admit it, being the gracious players they are).
Jamie's back nine started with a drive into the trees on hole one (which was her 10th hole), and it resulted in a bogie. While she played par golf for another five holes, another drive along the right rough at No. 7 left her no choice but to chip back to the fairway, and the lip-out on her second putt on the green resulted in a double. She finished at 4 over for the day and 7 over for the tournament, missing the cut for Sunday by several shots. "This course is great and the greens are awesome," noted Hullett. "It's one of the top venues we've played, and I know it has taken a lot of work to get here." When asked what she feels is the biggest change in the LPGA tour since her rookie year in 1998 after a great collegiate career at Texas A & M, she said, "Definitely the global influence with more foreign players every year." She did let me know that she does cheer for an OU victory at least once a year, when we play football in Dallas against Texas. We'll see if she holds up to that promise in a few weeks.
Jackie Gallagher-Smith had a tough round today as well. She carded three birdies and looked on several occasions to be making a move on the board. But a drive into the fairway trap down the left side of the 424-yard, par 4, fourth hole had her ball within inches of the back of the bunker and resulted in a double bogie. While clearly upset with her awkward stance and short shot out of the bunker into the rough, she made a pretty remarkable recovery noting, "I'm gaining on it," as she hit her fifth shot to within six feet of the pin and sunk a breaking putt for the double. Her birdie putts on No. 9 and No. 18 were both tremendous reads and would have been great finishing shots if she'd had some breaks on earlier holes. Throughout the day, her sense of humor was intact, as she resolved to "work on a few things this next week." There's one family who lives along the par 3, sixth hole who will have a fun story to share with their friends as "when nature calls..." even for the pros, you better be prepared to answer.
Late in the day, there were lots of people in the gallery on 18, and several groups still out on the course had a loyal following. The leader board for Sunday has some familiar names and some not so familiar ones, but it's shaping up to be an interesting finish to a fantastic tournament. There are 37 players within 6 or 7 shots of the lead, including local favorites, Stacy Lewis and Stacy Prammanasudh.
We're excited that the tournaments' sponsors have signed their commitment for another two years with this venue in NWA. That's news worth celebrating. However, there's still one more day to come out and enjoy some phenomenal golfers show their stuff. Since the weather forecast is for threatening storms in the late afternoon on Sunday, the start times have been set to begin at 7 a.m. off of both the 1st and 10th tees. Bring a folding lawn chair or a blanket, your umbrella (just in case), and an appetite for great golf. If you miss this one, you'll have to wait until next year, and I know you'll wish you'd been here!
Friday, September 12, 2009 - First Round
What an incredible day at the links!!!! You couldn't ask for more beautiful weather, slightly overcast most of the morning but lots of perfect sunshine in the afternoon, with temperatures in the mid to high 70's and a slight breeze that almost seemed a little cool if you were standing under a shade tree. Needless to say, it played a little difficult for the Lady Pros today, as they were seen making adjustments for crosswinds and the still damp ground conditions on the fairways and greens.
The grounds crews haven't been able to mow much of the course for two days as Pinnacle Hills is recovering from a deluge of over two inches rainfall in the last 48 hours. Other than hairy fairways and an occasional soft low-lying area, those folks have worked magic with the work they've done to make the course play as well as it has.
Stacy Lewis, former University of Arkansas Lady-back, said she felt the improvements made to Pinnacle Hills in the past year were great. "It's made the course harder to play and the greens are really awesome," noted Lewis. Having played some of her collegiate golf at Pinnacle, as well as participating in the first two years' P&G Beauty Championships, she would know if the overhaul was worth the investment.
Rogers Mayor, Steve Womack, this afternoon took a moment to offer thanks to several of the volunteers gathered around the 18th green. When we visited for a few moments following my round as a walking scorer today, he was very appreciative of my time, and was surprised to learn that I'd traveled from Oklahoma to Northwest Arkansas for this event. I relayed that my family lives in Bella Vista, and it makes for a nice family visit as well to come over and work this tourney. "You can take a baseball game or a really good football game and draw a big crowd," noted Womack, "but you won't find another event like this one that showcases our community and Northwest Arkansas to the world through our hospitality of volunteers and patrons alike and the great coverage we're getting on the Golf Channel." Womack further noted he'd visited with many guests from a variety of foreign countries in the last few days who had very favorable comments about the NWA tournament as compared to other LPGA tour stops. I know he is pleased that the folks at Proctor and Gamble have signed on for another two years of sponsorship to keep this event coming back to his community.
I really wish I'd been able to use my camera today at the course. While waiting for an opportunity to visit with Stacy Lewis after her round, I had a chance to meet nine-year-old Bianca from Hot Springs Village. You couldn't miss her in Autograph Alley and there was no doubt who's her favorite LPGA pro. You see, Bianca was totally stylin' in her pink cap, kids' golf attire, and shoes as she waited for an autograph from Paula Creamer. She told me she'd enjoyed watching Natalie Gulbis play several holes today, and Jill McGill had invited her inside the ropes on one hole to collect an autographed ball. But she was really excited to wait for her favorite, Paula, so she could let her know why she didn't play very well today. "She forgot to wear her pink dress," noted Bianca. We reminded her that Paula, like other pros today, wore red, white, and blue in recognition of Patriot Day to remember the events of September 11. "Oh, I know," commented Bianca, "but if she wears her pink dress tomorrow, she'll do a whole lot better!" (Note to Paula: Rock the pink dress tomorrow for your #1 fan, Bianca.)
There really was some amazing golf to watch today. I served as walking scorer for the morning group who included Tour Rookie, Jessica Shepley from Ontario, Louise Stahle from Sweden, and Sarah Smith from Australia. Those ladies had a rocky start as Louise suffered a triple bogey on the first hole after landing her approach shot in a greenside bunker. But things seemed to settle down after a few holes, and I watched them card a total of eight birdies in addition to six bogies, a double, and the triple. Our group finished the day at -1, +2 and +3 and have the potential to do well tomorrow. I was amazed at the skill these girls possessed in getting up and down from the bunkers. And these bunker shots at Pinnacle are no easy deal, let me assure you. We had a couple of near chip-ins, and some missed opportunities on lipped-out putts. But if a golfer tells you he hasn't had those experiences in every round, he's lying.
Following my loop and a quick bite of lunch, I caught a few groups coming in on 18. I don't know if the stats are in for the day yet, but there were a number of birdies and a few eagles on that 545 yard, par 5 finishing hole. There were a few ladies who caught the fairway bunkers which are newly added. But most either hit their second shot as a lay-up about 75 yards short of the green to allow them to hit a soft spinner toward the back right pin, or they flat out nailed their approach shot to the front edge of the green and hoped for a favorable roll toward the pin. The crowds loved it!! What a show!
I'm pretty sure that whatever the scores, these ladies are impressed with Pinnacle Hills as the LPGA's home for the P&G Beauty Championship. Brittany Lincicome, when asked what she thought about this course and the tourney so far, said "Awesome, always Awesome!" We expect a chance of rain late on Saturday and unfortuately, a pretty good prediction for most of Sunday to be wet. But you can always catch us on the Golf Channel this week -- check your local listings. Now, don't you wish you were here!!
Thursday, September 11, 2009
It was another early day for me at the P&G Beauty Championship at Pinnacle Hills in Northwest Arkansas. Before dawn, I was preparing the displays of golf balls and clubs to be distributed to the amateur players in the Pro-Am. Our TaylorMade rep, Travis Devlin, had lots of opportunities today to answer questions about the new golf ball their company is debuting in December. Even some of the pros and their caddies were asking if the release date would be moved up. It should be interesting to see the effect of the new five-piece ball. Despite overcast skies all morning and a brief shower for about 30 minutes around noon, the tournament had a great gallery turnout today. Most of the morning, the driving range and practice green both had lots of folks watching their favorite LPGA golfer go through their "pre-game warm-up" drills. It's really interesting to see how they work on their fundamentals, even if they've been playing on the tour for a decade or more-- it still goes back to the basics and practice, practice, practice.
We were excited to see the kids show up today for the Junior Clinic. The First Tee program had a huge turn-out and we could hear their excited reactions to the players from over 350 yards away as they were given opportunities to learn some of those fundamentals and see their favorite players up close. It seemed like there were at least 300 juniors, many in pink caps and shirts, enjoying their visit to the links. Several kids with their families stayed on for the afternoon rounds and were seen anxiously collecting autographs on their programs, pairing sheets, and visors/caps. They are so cute and the players really enjoy spending time with them.
I wasn't able to watch, but I heard there were some really good rounds turned in today with the Pro-Am. Some of the amateurs noted that Cristie Kerr and Angela Park hit some pretty impressive shots today and look to be really on their game for this tourney. I even heard there were some scores of 57 and 58 for the Pro-am with several groups still out on the course.
Once my shift was completed, I found a great spot in the shade on the hill by the 16th tee to watch some phenomenal shots in the afternoon rounds. Michele Redman nailed a bomber of a drive on 16 right down the middle to give her team a great approach opportunity for that hole. Kristy McPherson's group was clearly having too much fun as was Kristy. The three little girls who accompanied her group were keeping her entertained and were clearly her biggest fans of the day. The SC Gamecocks can be proud of that one!
Diana D'Alessio's group celebrated a great birdie from 15 by cheering their way to the 16th tee box, and she was quick to acknowledge our congrats with a terriffic pose for my camera shot. Maria Hjorth was observed showing a swing hint for a couple of her players, and Angela Park had a small gallery of fans who accompanied her round today.
I caught a glimpse of Michelle Wie on the putting green today, and she has a huge fan support. Karen Stupples spent a long while working on her shots at the range today, and it appears she's conquered whatever demons were bothering her at the start. Oh, and I visited with Christina Kim about her new 'do after the haircut last evening. It's really cute, and she loves the way everyone is acknowledging the gift of her hair for the wig program for cancer victims. What a great gal!
The weather for the next couple of days is expected to be pleasantly cool, a little overcast, with a little wind off and on. It's a perfect time to be watching some great golf in Northwest Arkansas. Why don't you join us if you're in the area. I'll be walking the links tomorrow with a group in the 8:32 a.m. tee time as a scorer, and I'm sure it will be worth the price of admission. Til tomorrow, still wish you were here.
Wednesday, September 10, 2009
The LPGA began its third run at Northwest Arkansas today with the first round of the Pro-Am. Right on schedule, and more predictable than a Farmer's Almanac, came the torential rains we've come to expect when the lady pros are in town. In a way, it's a real shame that the weather prohibited much of a gallery today. What little golf I was able to see was phenomenal. You'll be able to tell from the pictures that the $6 million-plus in improvements made to Pinnacle Hills during the past year have certainly performed as anticipated. Even with a 2-inch downfall, the greens, fairways, and traps all drained surprisingly well in record time.
As I write this entry, I've finished a six hour shift volunteering at the tee favors desk for the Pro-Am. Amateurs today were privileged to receive a dozen logo balls and a Driver and Rescue Club courtesy of Taylor-Made. It was pretty neat to see the expressions on some of the folks in the field when they realized their gift included two clubs and the box of golf balls -- and they got to play a round of golf with one of the LPGA's rising stars. How great is that! Our distribution table was logistically located on the driving range so the amateur players were able to warm up and in some cases, test out their new clubs. We watched some pretty remarkable practice shots, and a few folks trying to work off their nerves prior to their tee time.
I am thoroughly convinced that the LPGA players are some of the most gracious athletes you'll ever meet. NOTE: they put in the time, in the rain, to get their game to the level it is and keep it there. Most of them have a really sweet swing, and their shots are consistently where they aim in their practice routines, and they repeat it until they are comfortable that their performance will be at a consistently high level of expertise. Yet, they take the time to say hello, to offer thanks to the volunteers and fans alike, and to get down on the level of the kids who've come to watch these stars and dream of one day walking in their shoes.
Unfortunately, the weather today forced the postponement of the First Tee Junior Clinic, and I'm not sure who was more disappointed - the kids, or the pros. Most of them recognized the children who had come for the clinic with autographs, balls, and some encouraging words. The looks on those little girls' faces when Paula Creamer signed their ball caps and kneeled down to be sure they knew she was glad they came to watch, was priceless.
I had to laugh when the group of big burly guys who were playing with Jill McGill were all pumped up to really smack the ball and show their pro that they could play in her league. They teed off of the 10th hole with three of the four of them hitting respectable drives down one side or the other of the fairway in a light rain. Jill followed, of course, with a monster ball that went about 35 yards farther than the amateurs down the right side, and she wasn't quite pleased with her swing holding back a few minutes to practice that shot a couple more times, sans ball. The guys were heard to say "we'll play that one."
We're in a rain delay, and only one group has actually finished their round, but the radar looks as if the storms will be clearing out within the hour. I'm sure the grounds crews will have everything read to go in short order, and it'll be back out to the course for those who've waited out the delay. With any luck, tomorrow's forecast will bring clearer skies so we can actually watch some great golf shots. I plan to be up before dawn again tomorrow to put my shift in by noon so I can get a good seat on the hill by the 15th hole and watch some great shots at the island green for Pinnacle's signature hole. Wish you were here!!