ROGERS, ARK | There are obvious advantages to playing at home. On Thursday, Maria Fassi let out a long sigh and said, “So nice” through a big smile when asked how it felt to be able to sleep in her own bed this week during the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship presented by P&G. Fassi has lived near her alma mater, the University of Arkansas, for almost two years now and, in her words, “I don't even know why I left in the first place.”
And why wouldn’t she love it? The town of Rogers is full of restaurants and entertainment venues but retains the small-town quaintness that it had when Sam Walton was driving his pickup to the first Walmart. The airport (XNA, which frequent travelers refer to as Zena), ranks as one of the easiest and friendliest in the country. And, Fassi has good memories from her university days as well as a great place to practice. She won the NCAA individual championship at The Blessings, the Razorbacks’ home golf course which has one of the best ranges and short-game facilities in the country.
This week she will eat at home, drive her own car to the course and watch the big Saturday football game – Arkansas at Texas A&M – on her back porch.
As for the golf, she remains hopeful. For all the advantages that come with a home game, there are also pressures, especially if, like Fassi, you are looking for that elusive first LPGA Tour victory.
“There are of course a lot of expectations, more from myself I think than from outsiders,” she said when asked about the dichotomy that comes with playing at home. “I like to say that the outside expectation is more just support.”
She is open about her past struggles at this event. “I've played very poorly here in the past and I've still had amazing crowds follow me and cheer me on,” Fassi said. “And I've done very good here in the past as well and the crowds have also been amazing. So I think that in itself is a huge advantage.
“I think sometimes we need an extra push from somebody outside the ropes to get us through a couple bogeys or something. I think all of us Razorbacks have that advantage over some of the players.
“And for me, I mean, I've played this golf course a lot more times than most people out here. I try to come and play in my off weeks and just get a little more comfortable around the greens and in some of the tee shots.
“So I just try to kind of see it as, I've prepared myself for a lot of the situations that I could potentially be in. Now I think instead of feeling stressed or overwhelmed, I feel like during this week I can relax a little more and know that I'll be okay because I've prepared pretty much the whole year for this week.”
There will be friends wanting to chat at the course and people asking for dinner recommendations. She even had an event on Wednesday for her foundation, Fassi’s Friends, a foundation to help disabled kids find inclusion through the game.
“We had a great turnout last night at Top Golf,” she said of the event. “A lot of fun. Some new faces came and started supporting the foundation, which was awesome. We had a bunch of kids there that go to the clinics together and they didn't know that they were going to see each other. Seeing them walk into Top Golf together and get all excited and surprised, it's just very special.”
But, overall, the pluses of playing at home far outweigh the distractions.
“I'm just so happy to be back,” she said. “I think when I get to be home, I actually get to relax and recharge and get ready for longer stretches that sometimes I have to go on the road.
“I love it. I think the sense of community and family that I feel here, I hadn't felt elsewhere in the U.S. So I'm happy to be back home and that I can have at least one stop on tour where I can like I said before, just sleep at home and enjoy and have my people be around.”
And there’s also football. Despite being from Mexico where her family is soccer royalty, Fassi has fully embraced the American version, especially in the Southeastern Conference. The Razorbacks are undefeated going into week four and ranked 10th in the nation. Kickoff in College Station is 6:00 p.m.
“Very excited about my morning tee time on Saturday,” Fassi said with a smile. “I'll definitely be just lying on the couch or just outside enjoying it. Maybe with a couple friends. But it'll be a lot of fun. Hopefully we both – the Razorbacks and I – have a very happy day.”