The parade of Razorbacks through the media center has become a tradition of sorts during the Tour’s yearly stop in Arkansas. The ritual continued Tuesday with Stacy Lewis, perhaps the most famous athlete to come out of the University of Arkansas. Wednesday morning, Maria Fassi and Dylan Kim made their media visit, followed by Gaby Lopez in the afternoon.
Lopez had to be feeling a sense of déjà vu.
It wasn’t that long ago that Lopez sat where Fassi and Kim were sitting. The current members of the University for Arkansas women’s golf team answered questions about competing among the pros as this week’s Walmart NW Arkansas Championship. But in 2013, it was Lopez answering those questions.
That year, Lopez was a freshman, who received a sponsor’s invite to compete among the top players in the world. Now in her third year on the LPGA Tour, Lopez couldn’t help looking back at how she’s grown as both a player and a person over the five years she's competed at Pinnacle Country Club.
“The Gaby right now, is feeling way more comfortable with herself,” Lopez told the media. “Having this experience over and over again as an amateur, it helped me a lot to get to a point that I got comfortable playing with the best players in the world. Just being able to know myself a little bit better under pressure, I think that’s a turning point.”
Getting comfortable with herself has been only part of the adjustment for Lopez, who grew up in Mexico City. She makes an effort to return to Mexico whenever the Tour has a break, which gives her a chance to fly home every three to four weeks. Lopez couldn’t wait any longer, so she skipped last week’s event in Michigan to rest, disconnect from the world and reconnect with friends and family.
“I’m a home girl,” Lopez said. “It’s been hard of course to leave my family, my culture, back in Mexico for long periods of time. But in the end, I know they’re going to be there, forever. Just being able to have a balance in life is really, really important.”
The break came at an ideal time. Lopez missed the cut in her last two starts and returning to her coach at home in Mexico allowed her some time to work on tightening up her ball striking and putting. Controlling her emotions on a course that has produced so many memorable moments for Lopez, who finished T10 last year, will also be key. But the adjustments came just in time for Lopez, who can take advantage of a course she knows every well this week.
“I have a very, very special place in my heart for Northwest Arkansas, for Fayetteville and the community,” said Lopez. “Ever since I came to play college golf at Arkansas, it’s been an amazing journey.”
And just as Lopez pointed to Lewis as a mentor in her time at the university, Fassi and Kim said the same of Lopez on Wednesday.
“She’s one of the reasons I came to school here,” said Fassi, who like Lopez, is also from Mexico. “She’s always been there, she’s been an amazing friend for me.
“Stacy and Gaby have been so great to us as Razorbacks,” said Kim. “Their support really means the world.”
They were the same words spoken years ago by Lewis and Lopez and echoed this week by Fassi and Kim. They all competed as amateurs in the Tour’s stop in Arkansas and certainly, in the not too distant future, Fassi and Kim will also make their transition to the LPGA Tour.
It’s like déjà vu all over again.