Nasa Hataoka’s dominating performance at the 2018 Walmart NW Arkansas Championship smashed the tournament scoring record and ended with the young Japanese golfer becoming a Rolex First-Time winner. Shooting a final-round 63, Hataoka finished -21, beating the record by three strokes.
“Feels like one year came by in a flash,” said the 20-year-old Hataoka, who returns to Pinnacle Country Club with two more wins under her belt, including her most recent from the 2019 Kia Classic. “I'm definitely full of confidence and have also been able to contend at the Majors as well.”
Along with the win, Hataoka has had two runner-up finishes this season, and had a top-15 finish at last week’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. As one of number of young golfers on Tour, she said she does not feel like the only one on top of her game.
“There are great players like Brooke [Henderson] and Minjee [Lee], also rising stars, so it just feels like I'm competing against them every week,” said Hataoka.
This week, Hataoka is most looking forward to stepping out on the course again. “I like the golf course here. It reminds me of the courses back home in Japan,” said Hataoka. “I have a good image about this golf course. For this week I'm going to try to focus on my own game.”
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT DEFENDING CHAMPION NASA HATAOKA
- Hataoka shot a final-round 63 at the 2018 Walmart NWA Championship presented by P&G en route to setting the 54-hole tournament scoring record at -21
- Hataoka’s victory at the 2018 Walmart NWA Championship was the first of her LPGA Tour career; her following wins were the 2018 TOTO Japan Classic and 2019 Kia Classic
- Hataoka is a three-time winner on the LPGA Tour, joining fellow Japanese player Haru Nomura at that mark; the only Japanese players with more victories are Ayako Okamoto (17), Ai Miyazato (nine) and Hiromi Kobayashi (four)
- Hataoka is currently No. 5 on the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings; the highest position she’s held was No. 4 after rising three spots for her win at the 2019 Kia Classic
- Hataoka is the youngest winner on the 2019 season at 20 years, 2 months and 18 days
- In 2019, Hataoka has made ten starts; in addition to her win, she has two runner-up finishes (Pure Silk Championship presented by Visit Williamsburg and Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give) and a T15 finish at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship
GABY LOPEZ HAPPY TO BE AT HOME
Gaby Lopez returns to Pinnacle Country Club for her seventh start of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship presented by P&G, this year, as a winner on the LPGA Tour. Lopez became a Rolex First-Time Winner at the 2018 Blue Bay LPGA and since then, has made two top-5 finishes and two top-10 finishes on the season and looks to continue the strong trend to her game.
“It's been a solid season. Coming into this week I just feel that, I know this golf course pretty well. Just kind of relaxed out there, being able to feel calm and just enjoy really much the experience again to be able to represent the Razorbacks here at home,” said Lopez. “I ask a lot of LPGA players around ‘What's your favorite event?’ and lots of them they say ‘Arkansas’ just by how welcoming the community is and how special this week means to all of them.”
Lopez is one of six Razorback in this week’s field, the most players from the University of Arkansas’ collegiate program in the championship’s 13-year history.
“I'm super excited to be able to share especially this week with Alana [Uriell], Dylan [Kim], Kaylee [Benton], Maria [Fassi], Stacy [Lewis], being able to share this scenario with such an amazing environment. I don't think we get this environment in a lot of places,” said Lopez. “Being able to play with six college players, including Stacy and everyone out here is just very supportive to being able to cheer with the Razorbacks, and I'm happy and blessed to be part of this amazing group of young girls.”
2017 VICTORY IN ARKANSAS WAS A GIFT FOR SO YEON RYU
LPGA winner So Yeon Ryu claimed her fifth victory at the 2017 Walmart NW Arkansas Championship presented by P&G, winning by two strokes over Amy Yang and Moriya Jutanugarn. The win propelled Ryu to the No. 1 spot on the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings, which she held for 19 consecutive weeks.
“Ever since I decided to become professional golfer, I always wanted to become No. 1 in the world, and then this tournament just brought me to the gift. It's huge gift,” said Ryu, who set 18, 36 and 54-hole tournament scoring records en route to victory in 2017. “This tournament helped me out to achieve my dreams and then those dreams came true at this place. Just having all those feelings here is very special and then hopefully I can win again at this tournament. That would be even more special.”
Ryu experienced challenges as soon as she reached the No.1 spot but she used the experience to manage her own expectations and set new goals in her game.
“I guess when I was No. 1 that's the time I learned how to be myself, because that was very challenging. But the most challenging situation when I was No. 1, was that people's expectation level was so high. At the same time that's the time I learn how to be myself,” said Ryu, who is looking for her first win of the 2019 season. “So I think it's really great to have a higher goal to make yourself better all the time, so I am looking forward to becoming No. 1 in the world again someday.”
This week, Ryu is making her eighth start of the championship and will tee off at 7:59 a.m. on the first tee with Lydia Ko and Brooke Henderson.
FASSI DREAMS OF HOISTING WALMART NWA CHAMPIONSHIP TROPHY
Arkansas Razorback Maria Fassi returns to her “home away from home” to play at Pinnacle Golf Club, her third start of the event and her first time as an LPGA Tour professional. Coming off a T48 finish at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, she continues to grapple with her transition to life on Tour.
“Learning how to practice and learning how to be efficient has been key and I've had to change a lot of things and be okay with that change,” said Fassi, who is making her fourth start as a LPGA professional on the 2019 season. “I think that's been one of the biggest challenges, accepting that even though I feel like I can do it today, it might not be what I need to do down the road, so learning how to practice has been a nice challenge.”
The 2019 NCAA Individual Champion enters the LPGA Tour with collegiate accolades that include winning the ANNIKA award for the second time but the 21-year-old rookie has already sets her sights on winning in Arkansas.
“Just the win itself would be out of this world amazing but doing it at home…this is home for me, and doing it here would be unreal,” said Fassi. “I mean, I joked about it with Coach. I was like, ‘okay, I'll play for 10, 12 years so I have 10 or 12 goes at winning here,’ because I do want to win here so hopefully I get to do that and hold that trophy one day.”