Walmart NW Arkansas Championship Presented by P&G
Pinnacle Country Club
June 29, 2012
First-Round Notes and Interviews
LPGA Tour rookie Veronica Felibert leads by one shot after the first round of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship. Felibert shot a 6-under 65 at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers, Arkansas on Friday to take the lead after the first 18 holes of the 54-hole event. The Venezuelan native, who will turn 27 on Saturday, sits one shot ahead of 2012 Wegmans LPGA Championship winner Shanshan Feng and two shots ahead of a group of three other players at 4-under-par: Inbee Park, Karine Icher, and Mi Jung Hur.
From last to first? Early on Sunday, Venezuelan Veronica Felibert found herself second on this week’s alternate list and was uncertain if she would be playing in the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship Presented by P&G. It wasn’t until 5:00 p.m. Sunday night that Felibert learned the good news that she gained entry into this week’s field.
“Well, I was planning on playing the Monday qualifier so I flew in Sunday night from Canada,” said Felibert. “But by 5:00 p.m. I was already in because of the four spots of the Hall of Famer, something like that, so I got in and I'm here.”
Each week the LPGA holds spots for the previous week’s winner and Hall of Fame member and on Sunday night, two spots were released earning Felibert entry into her fifth official LPGA Tournament of the year.
A former member of the Symetra Tour and a rookie on this year’s LPGA Tour, Felibert’s first-round 6-under-par 65 marks her first round in the 60s this year. Coming off three consecutive missed cuts, Felibert didn’t hide her excitement at finding herself in the lead after one round of the 54-hole event.
“Well, I'm enjoying it,” said Felibert. “It's like a dream to be on top all the time, so it's my rookie season, I was trying to just playing the best I could and that's what I'm doing, and as long as I'm enjoying it, I'll be happy.”
Birdie binge: Shanshan Feng wasn’t able to hold a share of the first-round lead after recording a bogey on her last hole, the par-5 18th hole. But that didn’t mean that the recent 2012 Wegmans LPGA Championship winner was upset with her round.
Feng fired a 5-under 66 on Friday at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship Presented by P&G, which included eight birdies and three bogeys. That included a bogey on the 18th hole when she three-putted after nearly reaching the green in two.
“I think on this course it's not easy to have a bogey-free round,” Feng said, noting her 8 birdies on the day. “So I expect myself to make a couple of bogeys in a round. I think I did pretty well today and just keep the same thing going on for two more days.”
“Did it rain out there today? Because I’m not sure how I got so drenched,” Feng said with a laugh.
With temperatures topping 100 degrees in Arkansas for first-round play, there were certainly a lot of players who were thankful to get some relief from the heat when they were finished with their rounds.
“It's so hot out there,” said Stacy Lewis. “The actual front, the front nine, it's not bad. You're kind of in the trees, you get some wind back in there. Once you make the turn and hit 13, 13 on in, it's so hot, you're just baking. Michelle and I were talking on 18, we just wanted to get done because it just felt like it was beating down on top of you. So it's really hot out there and it's tough to get your energy level up to hit those shots and to keep going, but everybody's got to do it and I'm looking forward to the morning [tee time] tomorrow.”
Confidence builder… Mi Jung Hur burst onto the LPGA scene early in her career becoming a Rolex First-Time Winner at the 2009 Safeway Classic Presented by Coca-Cola where she defeated Suzann Pettersen and Michele Redman in a two-hole playoff. Hur then went on to continue her solid play in 2010 where she recorded two top-10 finishes including runner-up at the ShopRite LPGA Classic.
It wasn’t until 2011 that Hur’s confidence began to diminish when she missed seven out of 18 cuts and finished no better than tied for eighth leaving her 74th on the season-ending money list.
Hur returned to her old form at last week’s Manulife Financial LPGA Classic where she recorded her first top-10 finish in 24 events. Coming off the ninth place finish, Hur opened with a 4-under-par 67 to further prove her confidence has returned.
“Last week was my first top-10 this year and I think I played seven tournaments,” said Hur. “But last year I finished 74th money list, so I lose a lot of confidence at that time. But swing better and hit the ball better. I have a lot of confidence right now.”
Rolling at the right time? Inbee Park is no stranger to the big stage. The 23-year-old South Korean burst on to the LPGA scene when she became a Rolex First-Time Winner at the 2008 U.S. Women’s Open. But since then, Park has been searching to get back in the winner’s circle.
Park came close to that last week. She was part of a four-player playoff at the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic, falling shy of a victory as she was ousted on the second hole of the three-hole playoff that was won by Brittany Lang.
Park’s confidence seems to be building as she found herself up near the top of the leaderboard once again after Friday’s first round of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship Presented by P&G. She shot a 4-under 67 to sit in a tie for third with Mi Jung Hur and Karine Icher.
“I'm hitting the ball great,” Park said. “I'm putting really great, too. I went through a minor swing change this year and I think it's getting better and better. I'm hitting the ball better and getting my confidence up, so I think that's helped me a lot, and I'm definitely rolling the ball good.”
It seems that Park’s confidence is peaking at the right time with the U.S. Women’s Open taking place next week at Blackwolf Run in Kohler, Wis.
“I've been playing really good the last couple weeks, and I think it's the right time because it is a big major next weekend,” Park said. “That really helps me getting my confidence up and with my swing, too, so I'm looking forward to a good result.”
Calling the Hogs… In the midst of a season that includes two wins and the top spot in the Rolex Player of the Year race, former University of Arkansas Razorback, Stacy Lewis, has finally reached her comfort zone so it’s time to have a little fun. Playing in front of what can be considered a hometown crowd, Lewis made a valiant effort on Friday to energize the fans on the popular par-3 17th hole.
Just a short time after leading the fans in the ever-popular University of Arkansas Calling the Hogs woo pig sooie chant, Lewis threw out some hats and footballs.
“I think I'm getting more comfortable being in the spotlight and having that attention,” said Lewis. “I'm trying to get 17 rowdy. We want to get it a little bit crazier every year, and it was hot out there, so it's hard for those people to get going, give them some hats. I've got to come up with something else for the weekend but we'll see.”
Lewis might have three LPGA Tour victories under her belt but the Rolex Rankings No. 2 player proved she had quite an arm on her while throwing out the footballs.
“I wasn't sure how far those footballs were going to go, so I'm glad they got all the way to the people,” said Lewis. I was trying to find something fun to do and we'll have to keep it up for this weekend. I've got to get some more ideas going.”
Fighting through the pain… Injuries have plagued Stacy Lewis since a young age as she battled through scoliosis. Recently, Lewis has been suffering from a nagging injury in her foot which seems to be getting progressively worse as of late.
“Well, it's actually been bothering me for about a year now. It's something that just hasn't really gone away,” said Lewis.” This last week or so it hasn't -- it's probably been at its worse. It hurts more walking than it does hitting golf shots. It definitely didn't affect my swing or the way I'm doing anything, but I'm probably limping a little bit walking around.”
With next week’s U.S. Women’s Open on the horizon, Lewis will have to battle through the pain then go get the injury examined prior to Evian Masters Presented by Societe Generale.
“But I'm going to fight through it,” said Lewis. “We've got the U.S. Open next week so you're going to see me playing. I can play through it, I don't know what I did. I'm going to see a doctor in a couple weeks just because it's not going away. They thought it was the plantar fasciitis, but it's not going away like it should. It shouldn't be anything serious because I'm able to walk around on it all the time. It should be okay.
Tweet of the Day: “A ballsy move by Target to build a store in Walmart country.....that's like an English rugby fan wearing his shirt around Wales! #nwachamps” -- @BJMGolf (Becky Morgan)
Of Note…Rolex Rankings No. 1 Yani Tseng, who has won this event the past two years, opened up with a 2-over 73 in Friday’s first round…Jee Young Lee and Seon Hwa Lee both withdrew during the first round of play.
MODERATOR: All right. We'd like to welcome our current leader, Veronica Felibert, into the interview room. Congratulations on a fantastic round, 6-under par.
VERONICA FELIBERT: Thank you.
MODERATOR: Can you take me through your day and what was really working well for you out there today on the golf course?
VERONICA FELIBERT: Well, I think I was hitting the ball pretty good. I remember just missing one green, just chipping once and just hitting fairways and greens.
MODERATOR: This golf course, what's kind of the key to being successful out there on the course?
VERONICA FELIBERT: Play smart, I would say. It's just -- it's not too long, a few holes, so you just have to place the ball in the right spot to have an easier shot into the green.
MODERATOR: You were talking about the heat out there, talking about how hot it is. You're from Venezuela. Are you used to the heat a little bit?
VERONICA FELIBERT: Right. Well, I'm actually from Caracas, it's like up in the mountains, so it's not that hot. But I'm based in Florida now so I'm very used to heat and I like it better than cold, I've got to say.
Q. Veronica, I saw you were the second alternate to get in. Take us through when you found out, how you found out, when you got here, how much you had seen the course, all of that.
VERONICA FELIBERT: Well, I was planning on playing the Monday qualifier so I flew in Sunday night from Canada, but by 5:00 p.m. I was already in because of the four spots of the Hall of Famer, something like that, so I got in and I'm here.
Q. I saw you started on 10 and you had the bogey on 13. After that, five birdies to close. What was going on? What was really going well for you today?
VERONICA FELIBERT: I would say the putter, like I've been working really hard on my putter. I just switched a week ago, so this will be my second week with the putter. I don't know, I'm feeling pretty confident and I would say that was what made the difference.
Q. Just what are your feelings about being in the lead? I guess it's still early, I guess, but just being in the lead and not having cashed in an LPGA event in your career?
MODERATOR: What is it like being up near the top of the leaderboard never having been in this position on the LPGA before?
VERONICA FELIBERT: Well, I'm enjoying it. It's like a dream to be on top all the time, so it's my rookie season, I was trying to just playing the best I could and that's what I'm doing, and as long as I'm enjoying it, I'll be happy.
MODERATOR: Last year you were out on what's now known as the Symetra Tour. How much did that experience help you coming into this rookie season on the LPGA Tour?
VERONICA FELIBERT: Well, it helped quite a bit because maybe I haven't been in this situation on the LPGA yet, but I played a few good tournaments last year, so I'm like kind of familiar. It's not like all of a sudden I'm in this position.
MODERATOR: And I know you went to USC and had a lot of success in college as well, winning twice in college. What was that experience like when you came over and playing at USC, and how much has all of this kind of prepared you for getting to this rookie season?
VERONICA FELIBERT: Well, that helps a lot, I would say, because especially when you see all the girls that you have been playing in college with and you see them here, it's just like you feel that it's just the same but it's another level. So it's not too hard, I would say.
MODERATOR: All right. We'd like to welcome Shanshan Feng into the interview room. Congratulations, a great round 5-under par today.
SHANSHAN FENG: Thank you.
MODERATOR: I know it wasn't quite the finish that you wanted out there, but overall can you just take me through the day and what was working well for you?
SHANSHAN FENG: I started the day with a birdie, which was very nice, and I think I did maybe birdie the 1st, 3rd and 5th. I think except for the 1st hole I made like maybe a 20-foot putt and the other two were short putts. I was 3-under through 5, so I was very confident and comfortable playing the day.
But as the day going by, I mean, it was so hot, it became so hot I was like baked, you know? Made a couple of mistakes, so made like three bogeys, including the bogey like two shots by the green, and then I had one chip and three-putted, bogey the last hole. That wasn't a very good finish, but it's still okay. I made eight birdies today, I am still confident.
MODERATOR: Take me through that 18th hole. You were right there by the green in two. Kind of what happened on the chip? Was it a result of kind of a long day out in the heat, do you think?
SHANSHAN FENG: I would say my chipping has been not very consistent recently and I haven't got a lot of chance to practice. I would say that, one, the green was a little softer than I thought, a little slower going up the hill, and I just didn't give it enough and then it came back. I would say that wasn't a very good easy putt, I three-putted.
MODERATOR: It happens, right?
SHANSHAN FENG: Yes.
MODERATOR: In terms of the heat, as you talked about how tough it is, as a player out there, how do you kind of handle the heat and how do you make sure that you don't let it get to you too much to let it disrupt a good round?
SHANSHAN FENG: First of all, I wear long sleeves and I try not to wear dark clothes, especially a black hat; that would be so hot. And then I was always try holding my umbrella, and I was trying to take some vitamin C and some other things my caddie was putting in my drink that I was just drinking it. I don't know what it was, but maybe it worked.
Q. Why the long sleeves?
SHANSHAN FENG: Because to protect the skin because the sun is very hot and it's going to be damaged, too.
MODERATOR: Those sleeves actually cool you down.
SHANSHAN FENG: Yes, because you don't have the sun like directly on your skin.
Q. Do you feel like you left some birdies out there or at least some strokes out there with the three bogeys? So tomorrow are you kind of, I guess, excited by you can clean up your game a little bit, shoot even better?
SHANSHAN FENG: I would say actually I had a great day today. I had eight birdies, even though I had three bogeys, but I think on this course it's not easy to have a bogey-free round. So I expect myself to make a couple of bogeys in a round. I think I did pretty well today and just keep the same thing going on for two more days.
Q. Do you feel like your excitement level from the LPGA Championship carried over to today, and how do you think that will help you moving forward to this weekend?
SHANSHAN FENG: Yeah, I really gained a lot of confidence after I won because before the major win, I've won on both the European and Japanese Tour but I had never won on the LPGA. LPGA, which is the highest level of golf in the world for women. I was still, you know, thinking I'm kind of a good player but maybe I'm still not good enough to win. But then that win, it gave me a lot of confidence that now I know I believe myself I'm good enough to win like more than one tournament.
Q. Other than the heat, how was the course playing? How are the conditions out there?
SHANSHAN FENG: The conditions are -- it's great. The golf course is in good shape. Now, they kept watering the greens so the greens got a little, I would say a little softer than before, the past years, so it's easier for us to have birdie chances.
MODERATOR: I know you talked about the confidence that you've gotten from that win at the Wegmans LPGA Championship but there's also been a lot more attention on you since then, too. Earlier today we did a live chat with fans before your round, you've been asked to make more appearances. How difficult has it been for you since that win with more attention on you?
SHANSHAN FENG: I would say, you know, maybe because -- I'm the only girl from mainland of China on the Tour, but we have a lot more Korean players and Japanese players, so I think for the LPGA, we were just Asians, you know. And now I think after I won I think the LPGA sees me I'm a Chinese, I'm not only an Asian, I'm from mainland China, so we can promote a little more about the Chinese golf. It's good and I think it's going to help.
MODERATOR: How excited are you about how golf is going to grow in China now following your victory?
SHANSHAN FENG: I would say hopefully, in maybe 10 years, we'll be like five or 10 LPGA players on our Tour.
Q. I was just going to ask about the pairing. Was that a good pairing for you with Miyazato and Natalie Gulbis?
SHANSHAN FENG: I'll tell you what, it's my fifth year on the Tour, my first time to play with Ai in a tournament. I've played with her in practice rounds, but never in a tournament. It was our first time and I would say I don't (inaudible) Natalie that much either. It was kind of a new pairing, but I felt very comfortable because they were both very nice and I've known them for a long time all right.
MODERATOR: We'd like to welcome Inbee Park into the interview room. Congratulations, a great round, 4-under par. Coming off a very solid week last week in Canada where you finished tied for 2nd and competed in the playoff. How good do you feel about your game right now?
INBEE PARK: I'm hitting the ball great. I'm putting really great, too. I went through a minor swing change this year and I think it's getting better and better. I'm hitting the ball better and getting my confidence up, so I think that's helped me a lot, and I'm definitely rolling the ball good.
MODERATOR: Take me through the round today. What was really working well for you and how were you able to produce such a low score?
INBEE PARK: I think I hit the ball almost perfect today. I didn't miss any fairways, missed a couple of greens, that was about it. Had a great front nine, but the back nine wasn't the best back nine. But I'm satisfied with the way I played today and the way my game is right now, so I'm looking forward to the next two days.
MODERATOR: We're heading in next week to one of the majors, one that you've won before. How good do you feel about the way that your game is kind of coming together at this point leading into the U.S. Women's Open?
INBEE PARK: I've been playing really good the last couple weeks, and I think it's the right time because it is a big major next weekend. That really help me getting my confidence up and with my swing, too, so I'm looking forward to a good result.
Q. You've played well here in the past. What is it about this course that suits your game?
INBEE PARK: Well, I think this year was almost the first time we played it dry. It was always wet the last few years. I like this golf course. Sometimes you have to hit a draw, sometimes you have to hit a fade on this golf course, and I like to play that shot. I like the town here but not as much as this heat -- this much of a heat, but yeah, I really enjoy this week, yeah.Yeah, I think it's in the best condition ever. The fairways are dry and the greens are dry, and I think it's in the best condition, yeah.
MODERATOR: All right. We'd like to welcome M.J. Hur. Congratulations, a great round of 4-under par today, puts you right up there near the top of the leaderboard. Can you take me through your round and what got you on a roll and how were you able to shoot this score today?
MI JUNG HUR: My shot and putting was really solid today. I hit the ball really hard. I just missed one fairway, the last hole, and made a lot of putts. That helps me a lot, to make some birdies.
MODERATOR: And I asked Veronica the same question, but this golf course, what are kind of the keys for players to be successful this week? What do you have to kind of avoid doing on this golf course to find trouble?
MI JUNG HUR: You know, this course, we don't have to like be really aggressive because just hit the fairway and middle of the green, make some putts and I think that's the key, just simple play, nothing thinking too much.
MODERATOR: Next week is the U.S. Women's Open and everybody always, leading into majors, tries to get their games prepared. How's your game feeling and what you have been working on kind of leading into this week?
MI JUNG HUR: You know, I finished top-10 last week, it really helped me a lot, a lot of confidence, and for next week, too. I'm still working on my swing a lot because I struggled last year with my swing, maybe like 150th rank of the drive and greens, something like that. But I think it's coming. My swing is getting better and putting always feels better, so I look forward to next week.
MODERATOR: You said you've been working on different things in your swing. What's been the biggest thing you've worked on that's kind of now starting to come together to lead to this success for you?
MI JUNG HUR: I was working on more swing plane and like rhythm. For me, number one important thing is the rhythm, like Ai Miyazato she has a really good rhythm and tempo, so I just learned from her.
Q. How much confidence -- you played well last week and played well today. How much does that confidence help your game and continue to play well?
MODERATOR: How much does the confidence that you gained from last week carry over?
MI JUNG HUR: Last week was my first top-10 this year and I think I played seven tournaments. But last year I finished 74th money list, so I lose a lot of confidence at that time. But swing better and hit the ball better. I have a lot of confidence right now.
MODERATOR: It's amazing what that confidence can do for your game, too, as you continually start to see things --
MI JUNG HUR: Yes.
MODERATOR: Especially when you're working hard on your game. Did you feel that way, that it's just taken a lot of hard work over the winter and kind of playing in these events and getting comfortable with the changes you were making to your swing?
MI JUNG HUR: What I'm thinking is when you practice hard, it's definitely going to pay off. It made me a lot of confidence when we play better and better, so the key is a lot of Top 10 player has 100 percent of the confidence every time, I think. That helps me a lot.
MODERATOR: All right. We'd like to welcome Stacy Lewis into the interview room. Congratulations, a solid round today, 1-under par.
STACY LEWIS: Yeah.
MODERATOR: Looked like you had some fun out there, too.
STACY LEWIS: I did, I did. It was a lot of fun. It's always kind of nerve wracking for me to come play here because everyone expects me to play well and I want to play well. Sometimes I try to force it. I struggled a little bit today, it wasn't my best, but I'll take something under par. We've got two more days to go, so that's a good thing.
MODERATOR: We all got to watch on 17 when you got to throw out some hats and the footballs. For you, having been through this a few times, is the biggest thing for you to make sure you have fun and getting the fans involved, and are you getting more comfortable every year when you come back here?
STACY LEWIS: Yeah, I think so. I think I'm getting more comfortable being in the spotlight and having that attention. I'm trying to get 17 rowdy. We want to get it a little bit crazier every year, and it was hot out there, so it's hard for those people to get going, give them some hats. I've got to come up with something else for the weekend but we'll see.
MODERATOR: Just going through your round today, you said you maybe didn't play as well as you would have wanted, but what positives did you see out there and what do you feel you need to work on going into tomorrow?
STACY LEWIS: I really didn't hit the ball very well and I didn't putt the ball as well as I would have liked. I did make a couple good up-and-downs, so that's one good thing, but I didn't really hit the ball the way I liked and didn't putt the way I wanted to, so there's definitely a lot of room for improvement.
MODERATOR: And you're used to this heat, but was it as hot as everyone keeps saying? How tough is it when you're playing in the afternoon like you were today to kind of not get yourself completely drained by the end?
STACY LEWIS: It's so hot out there. The actual front, the front nine, it's not bad. You're kind of in the trees, you get some wind back in there. Once you make the turn and hit 13, 13 on in, it's so hot, you're just baking. Michelle and I were talking on 18, we just wanted to get done because it just felt like it was beating down on top of you. So it's really hot out there and it's tough to get your energy level up to hit those shots and to keep going, but everybody's got to do it and I'm looking forward to the morning tomorrow.
Q. Other than the heat, how were the conditions out there, the course and wind and stuff?
STACY LEWIS: I didn't think it played that easy, truthfully. The wind was, it was kind of switching around, it wasn't consistent all day, it was gusting in the trees. Then towards the end of the day the greens did get just a little bit bumpy. They're not running real fast this week. With the heat, they can't get them much faster, so there's a couple spots that were a little bumpy and that was a little challenge coming in. Other than that, the course is in really good shape; just the wind was the main factor.
Q. Stacy, you talked about your bum foot this week. I noticed a little wrap in it. How did you get it and does it affect anything in your swing?
STACY LEWIS: Well, it's actually been bothering me for about a year now. It's something that just hasn't really gone away. This last week or so it hasn't -- it's probably been at its worse. It hurts more walking than it does hitting golf shots. It definitely didn't affect my swing or the way I'm doing anything, but I'm probably limping a little bit walking around.
But I'm going to fight through it. We've got the U.S. Open next week so you're going to see me playing. I can play through it. I don't know what I did. I'm going to see a doctor in a couple weeks just because it's not going away. They thought it was the plantar fasciitis, but it's not going away like it should. It shouldn't be anything serious because I'm able to walk around on it all the time. It should be okay.
Q. Stacy, obviously you had the fans today. Is it true there's no place like home?
STACY LEWIS: Yes, there is -- nowhere else on Tour has this and it's so cool the way people just crowd to the first tee and to hear that announcement, representing the University of Arkansas. No matter where we go, some people have a hometown deal, but it's not a hometown like this is. There's no place like here and it's just awesome the way fans over the years have supported me. Actually, I went in there today, I'm five shots off the lead and people are telling me I did awesome, so that's the cool part about being home.
Q. How long did it take you to plan your antics on 17, and did you practice that throw with Tyler Wilson?
STACY LEWIS: No, I didn't, I wasn't sure how far those footballs were going to go, so I'm glad they got all the way to the people. I was trying to find something fun to do and we'll have to keep it up for this weekend. I've got to get some more ideas going.
MODERATOR: I'm not going to lie, everybody in here was pretty impressed with the arm.
STACY LEWIS: The arm? Yeah. I've got to show it off a little bit.
MODERATOR: We were impressed with the first pitches, but that was a pretty impressive way to show it off as well.