Gayle writes the fan diary from the 2011 Walmart NW Arkansas Championship Presented by P&G.
Sunday, September 11, 2011
Wow, as I type the date, I'm certainly reminded that we never take for granted the amazing opportunities we have as free people in this country. Opportunities like gathering in beautiful Northwest Arkansas with folks from literally all over the world to enjoy watching some of our favorite lady professionals play the sport we all love.
Today marks the final day of the NWA Championship, and my Henryetta Lady Knights are so stoked about their rounds today because they know they are carrying standards for lead groups. We've picked up a few more parents to be among our own gallery, as their friends and family have made the trip over from Henryetta, Oklahoma, to watch their daughters experience the Championship Sunday in the LPGA.
When we arrive at the course, we are impressed with the outward expressions of patriotism throughout the neighborhood surrounding the course and at the Pinnacle Hills venue. At each hole are members of the armed forces in full dress uniform to greet the pros and wish them well on the final day of competition. We later see more of these young men and women tending the flagsticks at the greens on the back 9. It's pretty impressive to see each hole with the American flag on the pin and a member of the military in full salute guarding that flag!
Just before my tee time, as I was waiting on the side of the first tee box, I understand why Paula Creamer has the huge fan base that she does on this tour, especially among the little girls. After handing out several signed pink balls to the girls seated along the ropes, Paula realized she was out of balls and had one little girl in the group who didn't get one. She promptly signed a pocketbook sized golf bag with her name stitched in the leather and personalized the autograph to young Ella Austin from Levaca, Arkansas. "I play golf with the First Tee program in Fort Smith," she said, "and they're not gonna believe this!" I don't know who was more excited, Ella or her mom.
My scoring group today was hometown favorite Stacy Lewis, rookie Belen Mozo whom I'd had a great day with during the pro-am, and tour superstar Ai Miyazato. We started the day at 9-under, 8-under and 8-under par ready to make a run at the leaders for this perfect day of golf.
With 3 birdies in the group on the first two holes, I told my standard bearer, Miss Claire Massey, that it was definitely a birdie kind of day and we should see some pretty amazing shots. I sort of expected Ai and Stacy to really tear up this course given the conditions and their experience in Tour events. What I didn't expect was for young Belen to hit the fairways and greens like her ball had radar. Belen pulled a driver out of her bag on the 500 yard plus seventh hole to hit her approach shot from the right side of the fairway to within 3 feet o the green for an eventual birdie. For a little gal, she proved she's all woman by putting that shot right where she aimed with a big club off the deck!
Belen was really on a roll until we reached the ridiculous par-5 14th. This hole is long, dog-legs left, has a large lake in front of the green, with a gaping bunker dead center on the face of the 65-degree or more hillside that holds the green on top. And the green is undulating from every possible angle.
All three ladies had great drives and were in good position to go for the green to make birdie or better. Ai was first to hit her approach and her second shot lands in the deep bunker in front of the green. Stacy hits next and her shot ends up in the light rough to the right alongside the path where the players cross to exit the green. Then Belen hits last and her bombing shot ends up just under the edge of an evergreen tree on the back left of the green with the pin located on the front right. You could hear the gallery speculating about her shot because a miss-hit could mean disaster with the steep slope back down to the lake if she hit her third shot long. In made-for-tv drama, that's exactly what happened. She bladed her wedge and the ball goes scuttling across the green and down the slope, landing less than 10 inches from the water among the television transmission cords. After a ruling that she could move the cords and play the ball as it lay, that's exactly what she did. With one shoe off in case she went into the water, she chipped up to the green and settled for a double bogey on the hole.
Not to be outdone in the drama department, tour veteran, Ai Miyazato hit her bunker shot into the cup from an angle that kept her from seeing the green. Talk about experience showing how it's done!
Coming off of the 14th, Belen was a little beat down, but she got right back on speed, catching the tails of Ai's momentum. Among the three players, they carded five birdies on the closing four holes. Stacy Lewis heard her gallery "call the hogs" on four separate occasions as folks with homes along the fairways paid tribute when she passed as well as the corporate tents along 17 and the closing hole at 18.
Stacy admitted in a post-round interview with the local media that she really wanted to do well in the event among her many local fans, but her putter just let her down this week. We were witness to at least four shots that were within a ball's width of going into the hole for birdie. With a finish in a tie for 8th place at 8-under par, those four shots would have let her be tied for the lead with the winning score at 12-uner par. Sometimes it goes your way, and sometimes it doesn't, but that's the game of golf!
Even champion Yani Tseng made reference to discovering what the "hooooot" was from all over the course as Stacy showed her the correct way to "call the hogs" as Razorback fans do whenever they pay tribute to one of their own.
The tournament ended with a playoff between Tseng and Amy Yang, and in typical fashion had everyone on the edge of their seats watching those final shots into the 18th and the putts to decide the victory. Yani is a repeat Champion of this event, and is very well liked among the other pros and the fans of this event.
The day concluded with a tribute to the service men and women from Northwest Arkansas, some musical entertainment and a speech by Congressman Womack who was previously Mayor of Rogers, Arkansas and whom I'd met in previous years discussing how important this event is his community. The fly-over by the Air Force bombers at the end of the ceremony reminded us there are still many of our fellow citizens serving in harm's way who need our prayers to protect them as they endeavor to help keep our country free!
By the way, my Henryetta Lady Knights hung around the 18th green following the festivities to obtain autographs and photos with their favorite pros, including the champion. That one will surely make it into their yearbook! They've already started asking how soon they can sign up to do this again next year. After my legs recover from walking 54 holes in three days, I'll start getting information for them so we can mark our calendars and start making plans to be here again.
Hope to see you as well next summer in beautiful Northwest Arkansas!
Saturday, September 10, 2011
Don't let anyone ever tell you that the LPGA Tour is for wimpy women! Did we see some golf shots today or what! This is Gayle Machetta, your Fan Diary Correspondent for the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship in Rogers, Arkansas. The weather was conducive to some great scores today, and I'm telling you, these girls can hit the ball a mile in good conditions!
I was pleased again today to serve as Walking Scorer for this event, and had a ringside seat to three really awesome players. One of my Lady Knights, Morgan Brown, carried the standard and I scored for the group which included Na Yeon Choi, Beatriz Ricari, and Catriona Matthew. Despite being such gracious ladies who did not hesitate to appreciate our volunteer help, these ladies hit some pretty remarkable shots. We watched Na Yeon birdie the first hole and thought we had a pretty good start to the day.
We didn't have any idea that Beatriz would follow that spectacular shot with an even greater one of her own as she scored eagle on the par-5 by bouncing her third shot into the hole from about a hundred yards out. She jumped up, we yelled, the gallery chimed in, and everyone thought we were well on our way to seeing a fantastic round of golf. Approaching the next hole, we experienced a wait of over 15 minutes and that seemed to really take the momentum from our girls. It took a couple of holes for them to recover, but when they did, they turned it on again.
Catriona had a wayward shot on the 4th hole that cost a stroke, but her bogie save was a great putt. Then Na Yeon had a wayward shot to the stream along the 7th which set her back a couple of shots. Catriona followed with a shot off the ninth tee that left her no option but to punch back out to the fairway and resulted in a bogie just before the turn. They seemed to regroup after that, and we saw some pretty amazing shots, and some equally stupefying misses. More than one of us who golf have wondered who moved that cup as the ball got close.
The Lady Knights all had another great day and even met one of their counterparts from the Bentonville Girls Golf team over lunch in the volunteer tent. After sharing stories about each school and their competitive events, everyone headed off to report for duty on the course. It really is a wonderful experience for these young people to experience the sport at this level from inside the ropes!
Due to our tee times today, I didn't have much opportunity to interview fans today. I did however, get a good laugh at the line of autograph seekers along the ropes at 18. Lest you think that only little girls seek the signatures of their favorite pros, be sure to notice there are plenty of mature men in the line waiting their turn for the sharpie to hit their caps or pin-flags.
Got a big day tomorrow, so I'll close with one more invitation for anyone who might be looking for something to do on Sunday afternoon in Northwest Arkansas, Eastern Oklahoma, or Southwest Missouri. We've got your ticket!
Friday, September 9, 2011
Greetings from beautiful Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers, Arkansas. I'm Gayle Machetta, your Fan Diary Correspondent for the Walmart Northwest Arkansas Championship. Boy, did we see some action among the tour's brightest stars in today's competition.
It seemed the order of the day was for the players to birdie and gain a couple shots on the field only to give them right back a hole or two later.
My pleasure today, was to host the Henryetta, Oklahoma, Lady Knights golf team for this event. Our varsity ladies are serving this tournament as Standard Bearers. While all are rookie volunteers, they took to the duty like tour veterans. By showing up for the appointed duty about 30 minutes before their scheduled times, they were rewarded by being bumped up in the line up due to some no-shows. Just their luck, four of the five girls ended up carrying standards for marquee groups. Junior Morgan Brown carried the board for the group with Morgan Pressel, which made her day. “She has my name, and that's pretty neat, so I'm excited to get this round,” noted Miss Brown.
Our Senior Lady Knight, Miss Kaylie Crawford, was pleased to carry her board for the group with Brittany Lang and Vicki Hurst. “I know that they're working, and they didn't visit much, which was fine,” noted Miss Crawford. “It was kind of neat to get autographed balls from the players.”
Junior Claire Massey was pleased to watch Kris Tschetter and Mhairi McKay today, noting “They had some really great shots, and some not so great. But it was still amazing to watch from inside the ropes.”
Sophomore Jolie Vance seemed to have much more stamina than her counterparts who attempted to serve as walking scorer for the group with Jimin Jeong and Jennifer Song. A combination of radio issues and a new palm-pilot scoring system proved too much for three folks who gave up on the process. Jolie collected signed balls from her pros with extras in case she knew how to contact the scorers. We'll tease her about that for awhile, I'm sure.
Sophomore Page Johnson pulled the lucky straw today, carrying her board for Paula Creamer, Brittany Lincicome, and Karie Webb. “I can't believe how many people are following our group,” observed Miss Johnson. At one time, there were easily 200 people on either side of the fairways comprising the gallery for this group, including many little girls with pink hats hoping to get a glimpse of their favorite, Miss Paula.
Among those who were patiently waiting at the 9th green were Haley Bryant and Allison Peterson from Carthage, Missouri, who got to miss school today and couldn't wait for a chance to obtain an autograph from Paula. They were joined by Brianna Yocham from Springdale and Kaitlyn Gilleland from Joplin who also had sharpie-at-the ready. Although, Miss Kaitlyn was also hoping to see Cristie Kerr and wanted to be sure to leave some space on her cap for two autographs. It's really pretty neat to see a whole generation of new LPGA fans at nearly every hole.
My experience today with the new palm-held scoring system was thankfully uneventful. It's quite a change for those of us who didn't grow up with a computer, but I managed. Now if I can only get the hang of the radio system. With so many people calling in scores from all over the course, you tend to get a jumpy trigger finger to try to get your spot in line so you can go on the next hole. More than once, I had to repeat attempts to post scores and I'm hoping to have that mastered by tomorrow since I have one of the final groups on Sunday.
Speaking of final groups on Sunday, our HHS Lady Knights will probably be short on sleep Saturday night. They've learned today that they'll have the privilege of carrying boards for the last five groups and they know that means they'll be watching some really great golf.
It's not too late to join us for the weekend. U of A plays at night in Little Rock, and the rest of the games can be DVR'd , so bring the family and point the SUV toward Rogers. We'll see you at the links!
Thursday - September 8, 2011 - Hello Golf Fans from beautiful Northwest Arkansas! I'm Gayle Machetta, your Fan Diary Correspondent for the 2011 Walmart NW Arkansas Championship Presented by P&G at Pinnacle Hills in Rogers, Arkansas. The Chamber of Commerce has got to be over the moon with the picture-perfect weather we've dialed in for this week's tour event. I know the players are excited, and their caddies even more so.
Today's Pro-Am was another successful event, with a substantial gallery for mid-week. The vendors saw some activity, and the practice range and putting green areas were thick with autograph seeking LPGA fans who were not disappointed as many of the players were very gracious in granting more than a few requests for signatures. I ran into young Emily Harris, who I'd met yesterday tending the flag at the 9th green for her new favorite golfer, Belen Mozo. She was truly seeking autographs today. Having come straight to the course from school, she boasted a ball cap that was covered with signatures, and noted she had six more groups to go yet today, and she will have gotten every pro in the field today to sign her cap. "This is my 5th year in a row, and I've got a pin and another hat, but this one is the best," noted Miss Emily. Talk about an excited fan!
My group in today's pro-am teed off a little after 1 pm with Inbee Park in what proved to be a really interesting round. After an opening par, our group got serious and had a birdie streak of six-in-a-row going before settling for a par on the 8th and 9th holes for 6-under on the front nine. After refueling adult beverages at the turn, it was full speed ahead as we started the second birdie string on the back nine, until we carded par on 14. Finishing the day at 12-under par, our group called the day a success. Anchored by Pinnacle member, Matt LoPorto, our Anheuser Busch executive group only had one issue all day -- the beer of choice for the Pro-Am was Miller Lite!
Once our round was complete, I took some time to visit with the residents enjoying the view from their terrace along the 9th green. Cindy O'Connor and family told me they were gearing up for a big week with this event. Having purchased this home 11 months ago, Cindy noted "I watched this event last year from the gallery across the green, the whole time thinking that next year, I'd be watching from my own terrace, and now I am!" It seems she closed on the house two weeks after the close of last year's tourney, and as soon as her sisters and their entourage found out the dates of this year's event, they were making reservations to travel from New York, Dallas, and Muskogee, Oklahoma. Paul Murphy, Cindy's brother in law from New York, noted that "we follow Reilly Rankin and Vicki Hurst - they're our favorites, and they'll know we are here when they come through." I was extended a gracious invitation to join their party all week, and while I appreciate their hospitality, something tells me that when I pass through as a Walking Scorer, there won't be quite enough time for a party break. Enjoy the week and your family, Miss Cindy!
Before I headed to the shuttle to return home for the evening, I noticed a lone pro taking advantage of the solitude on the practice green next to the clubhouse. Even as the sun was getting ready to call it a day, third-year pro Chella Choi was still at it working her drills and carding a full day as she prepares to enter tomorrow's event.
Tickets are still available, and you won't find a more perfect way to spend the day than watching these incredible women at the peak of their sport on what is sure to be another spectacular day in the mid 70's in Rogers, Arkansas. Catch me on the course, and watch for your picture and story on the web. Gotta catch some zzzz's, got an early tee time in the morning!
Wednesday - September 7, 2011 - Welcome to the 5th year of the LPGA in Northwest Arkansas. I'm Gayle Machetta, your correspondent for the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship Presented by P&G Fan Diary. Have we got a great week planned for this event! The weather today for the first day of the Pro-Am was made-to-order with temps in the mid 70's for most of the day and just a light breeze this afternoon. It surely made for a good day of golf practice for the lady pros as they entertained their corporate sponsors and others in the Pro-Am. And entertain, they did. As expected, local favorite and Arkansas Razorback, Stacy Lewis, drew the largest gallery of the day. Her original tee-time of 12 noon was moved back to 12:20 with morning groups running a bit behind. That allowed for plenty of folks to be able to gather round the first tee box in order to support their hometown girl. Among those following Stacy were Casey Ott from Conway, Arkansas and Katelyn Dunstan from Little Rock, who are First Tee Program participants. When asked if they were here to watch Stacy, they admitted they would watch Stacy, of course, but they really came to watch fellow First Tee member, Addison Mitchell, who was playing the group with Stacy for the Pro-Am. Both girls were excited to be out of school for the day, and Katelyn was looking forward to tomorrow when she gets to play in the Pro-Am. Mom and dad were surely elated to learn their daughter, Addison, would be playing with Stacy. “I don't know who got less sleep last night, Addison or her folks,” noted proud Pappa.
Serving as a driver for the Pro-Am, I had a great time today with my 1:20 group off the first tee. Our pro, Belen Mozo, was delightful. She's originally from Spain, having played her collegiate golf at USC and turning pro in 2010. It's easy to see how she has become one of the new faces to watch on the ladies' tour. She admits to being fashion-forward and rocked a really cute golf dress for today's match. We were joined by her boyfriend in the gallery, Tennis Pro, Roberto Farah, who notes he rarely is able to watch Belen in her sport, since he travels so much with his sport. It's clear they enjoy the time they do spend together, and Roberto fit right in with the foursome in my amateur group.
Among those in my group for today's pro-am were Nick Sidorakis, General Manager of Tulsa's Southern Hills Country Club, Cleve Stubblefield, General Manager of Tulsa's Cedar Ridge Country Club which formerly hosted the LPGA Hammonds Classic prior to this event in NWA, and their golf buddies, Mike Hamshire and Jeff Smith, also of Tulsa, Oklahoma. It was evident these guys have hit a few balls in their day, and in fact, Nick was coming off of playing a round just yesterday with PGA pro, Rickie Fowler at Nick's home course, Southern Hills. These guys were no slouch, and I know that Belen appreciated being a part of this group who knew how to have fun while still putting together a pretty good round of golf, finishing the day at 14-under par.
As we arrived at the tee box on the 9th hole, we were greeted by Abby and Emily Harris, who are now big fans of Belen. In fact, these two girls met Belen's caddie, Tim, on the shuttle bus back to the parking area on Tuesday evening after they watched a practice round. Tim invited the girls to be sure to look them up in the event this week, and they took his words to heart. Belen graciously autographed balls for each girl, and encourage them to run ahead to the green so they could help by tending the flagstick when the group got ready to putt out. You've not seen a cuter pin-tender than young Abby, who now thinks she wants to be a pro-golfer too, or maybe a caddie!
Our group turned in a pretty good round, but as I visited with Mike Shea, Pro-Am Committee Chair, at the conclusion of the day, he indicated there were some spectacular scores turned in just prior to our group. With six groups still out on the course at the time, the lead was at 20-under par with a round of 52 turned in by the group playing with Samantha Richdale. The group playing with Ai Miyazato carded a 55, so there were some hot shots on this perfect afternoon for golf! The folks at Pinnacle have the course in amazing shape for this event, and I know the club members are proud to have their course on display for a world-wide audience this week.
Tomorrow is the second half of the Pro-Am, and the weather is again expected to be amazing. If you happen to have the day off, it would certainly be worth your time to venture out to Pinnacle in Rogers, Arkansas to watch the best lady golfers in the world. Pin placements for the weekend look to be pretty interesting, and I know I'm looking forward to the start of the tournament on Friday. I'll be serving as a Walking Scorer each day, and I'm pleased to welcome the Henryetta, Oklahoma, Lady Knights high school golf team this year as standard bearers for the event as well. Our home town will be well represented in this event, and we hope you join us for a wonderful weekend of golf in beautiful Northwest Arkansas.