The LPGA fall schedule resumes after a quick sojourn in Spain for the Solheim Cup. With just seven events left to get inside the top 60 in the Race to the CME Globe and earn a place in the CME Group Tour Championship, many of the 144-player field in Arkansas are feeling a sense of urgency. Of course, that extra motivation is what you need to win the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship presented by P&G.
Like the Solheim Cup, the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship is only three days long. A cut will be made after the first 36 holes to the top 65 and ties, and those who play all 54 holes will share a $2.3 million purse and a first-place prize of $345,000. That’s enough to get many who competed last week in Spain to show up in Rogers, Ark. including the U.S. captain Stacy Lewis. Lewis was the first winner of the Walmart back in 2007, this event is now in its 17th edition.
Pinnacle Country Club has been the host course since the event’s inception. The par-71 layout winds through water, bunkers and tree-lined fairways for 6,438 yards. As one of the shorter courses on Tour, this event has seen some stellar scoring. Over the past five years, the average winning score is 18-under.
One reason why Pinnacle lacks length is the scorecard. The course has five par 3s, four par 5s, and nine par 4s. Those par 3s are immediately attention-catching. In a three-round tournament, those five one-swing holes will make up nearly 30% of a player’s score. Last year, the top-10 finishers averaged 2.74 strokes on the par 3s. The first secret to scoring at Pinnacle is to play the par 3s under par.
Par 3 scoring is a cumulative stat requiring putting and great iron play. Those same leading players from a year ago gained an average of five strokes (5.1) on the field with their approach game. The best approach players in this year’s field are In Gee Chun, Hyo Joo Kim, Hae Ran Ryu, Georgia Hall and Jodi Ewart Shadoff.
Great ball strikers also hit many greens in regulation. The top 10 hit an average of 84% of their greens in regulation last year. Kim, Atthaya Thitikul, Emily Kristine Pedersen, Ryu and Shadoff all hit a ton of greens, and Shadoff, Ryu and Chun also rank in the top 10 for par-3 scoring. Our recipe for success is becoming quite clear. Kim and Thitikul are the favorites across the betting board. Picking a winning wager is also about finding a little value as well. If Kim’s odds are +900 (9-1) to win and Ryu is +2500 (25-1) and they have a very similar skill set, you should take Ryu.
We want to win the largest purse for our bet. Arguably, if we just judged those specific skills, Shadoff at +5000 (50-1) is also a logical choice. That’s the strategy behind this preview each week. The goal is to find those players who will contend on Sunday afternoon. Once we determine them, you can choose the best option and make that weekend wager.
Then comes the fun. Watch your players compete and see where they stack up. Test your homework and then either enjoy the win or try again next week. Watching golf with a small wager on the line heightens our connection to the players and the broadcast. Engage with the entertainment and you’ll be amazed how much more exciting the final result will become.
Keith Stewart is an award-winning PGA Professional. He covers the LPGA and PGA Tour for Sports Illustrated, The Sporting News, LPGA, and PGA TOUR. If you are looking to raise your golf acumen and love inside information about the game, check out his weekly newsletter called Read The Line.