ROGERS, ARK | Nasa Hataoka has found a piece of home at Pinnacle Country Club, where she has captured two Walmart NW Arkansas Championship presented by P&G titles since she joined the Tour. In fact, Hataoka’s first LPGA win came in Rogers in 2018. She shot a whopping 21-under par, setting the tournament’s scoring record.
“(The greens here are) really similar to the greens in Japan, which I’m very used to, so it makes me play very well,” Hataoka said when asked about her success in Arkansas. “The green really stops, which helps me a lot.”
This event favors Hataoka’s game in other ways too. There are only 54 holes to work with, so birdies are every player’s best friend. Hataoka comfortably leads the tour this season with 324 birdies and 38 rounds in the 60s.
At Pinnacle Country Club, birdies will come to those who focus on their approach. In recent years, the course has favored those who approach the green well and figures to be one of the most important factors in determining who takes home the championship this year. Last year, Hataoka led in strokes gained approach en route to her second NW Arkansas Championship.
“Having those birdies is the only way that I could keep winning on this course,” Hataoka said. “Recently, my iron shots are giving me chances to get those birdies.”
Entering this week, Hataoka is one of just four players to average positive strokes gained in the four main categories – off the tee, approach, around the green and putting. Her best being in the approach to the green at +0.63 strokes gained.
Hataoka isn’t the only player who’s well suited this week. Minjee Lee, who currently leads the tour at a +2.23 average in strokes gained approach, will provide stiff competition. Last year, after shooting -16 with two holes-in-one, Hataoka claimed the championship by just a single shot over Lee. Hataoka vividly remembers her nerves on the 18th green last year.
“I was really nervous on 18 green last year, but I have so many good memories here,” she said.
The difference-maker this weekend may be Hataoka’s mindset. While Lee has struggled in her last two events, Hataoka has hit her stride. She enters the tournament with seven consecutive top-20 finishes, including four top-10s, and Hataoka is confident she can ride that hot streak into the weekend.
“Being in the top 20, I can just keep thinking of winning,” Hataoka said. “That gives me a good mindset and keeps me going at this pace.”
Hataoka is very comfortable off the course in northwest Arkansas as well. This week marks her sixth stay in Rogers and Hataoka has enjoyed watching the city grow over the years. Her favorite souvenirs? The jewelry she gets in town. And the trophy, of course.