Alena Sharp, Rolex Rankings No. 234, -6
Michelle Wie, Rolex Rankings No. 7, -5
Alejandra Llaneza, Rolex Rankings No. 273, -5
Stacy Lewis, Rolex Rankings No. 1, -1
Gaby Lopez, Sponsor Invite, -1
Canada’s Alena Sharp shot a 6-under 65 on Friday to take the first-round lead at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship Presented by P&G. U.S. Women’s Open champion Michelle Wie and Alejandra Llaneza of Mexico trail the lead by one shot. Sharp’ s round of 65 ties her low round of the year and leads after the first round for the first time in her career. She described her round which included seven birdies and one bogey as ‘simple and relaxed.’
“Yeah, hit a lot of greens today, I only missed four greens,” said Sharp. “Drove it well, wasn’t
really in the rough at all so I got to lift, clean and place so got a perfect lie almost every time. Really didn’t hit outside of 20 feet much, made a lot of putts. It was really simple. It was fun to just play and not be stressed and just relax and enjoy the day.”
Sharp has made five previous appearances at the event and previous best finish was a T54 in 2009. She said being familiar with the track at Pinnacle Country Club made her work around the greens on Friday easier.
“And the greens are so perfect,” said Sharp. “I mean, they’re rolling so smooth, it’s almost like no one’s played on the greens at all. There’s hardly any divots on them.
I think knowing the breaks helps, yeah. And then I got the speed down right away which was perfect. It’s hard to get the judge of the speed this week with all the rain that we’ve had, but it’s in great shape for all the rain that’s fallen here this week.”
Rogers received nearly two inches of rain over the past five days, but Sharp said her length off the tee helped her with the soft conditions. Sharp is ranked seventh on Tour in average driving distance with an 268.6 yard average.
“Well, I drive it fairly far so I knew it was a little bit of an advantage carrying it further than some of the other girls,” said Sharp. “But it wasn’t playing as long as I thought it would because the wind is not easy either.”
Wie, who arrived in Arkansas on Wednesday afternoon from a media tour in New York City following her first major championship win, said she started running out of gas on the back nine but was glad to be back playing again.
“Definitely running on fumes right now but I’m excited to be here in Arkansas,” said Wie. “The crowds are amazing. Just feels great to play golf again.”
Wie has missed the cut at this event the past three years but had a runner-up finish in 2010. She had a bogey-free round with five birdies and said she was grateful for the
weather holding up yesterday to allow her to get in a full 18 holes in before Friday.
“I think, you know, I got lucky to play 18 holes yesterday in the pro‑am,” said Wie. “The weather definitely held up, which is nice.”
Wie said the positive momentum from Pinehurst definitely carried over into this week but has high concern for logging more hours of sleep.
“It definitely gave me confidence to play today,” said Wie. “But definitely it would have been harder if I had a morning tee time today. I was really happy about this late afternoon tee time. Glad to sleep in, got my 12 hours of sleep, and hopefully I’ll get to bed in about an hour and a half now.”
University of Arkansas alum and world No. 1 Stacy Lewis shot a 1-under 70 and is in a tie for 43rd and five shots off the lead. Defending champ and world No. 2 Inbee Park was one shot better with a 69 and is T25 after 18 holes.
CAREER LOW ROUND
Mexico native Alejandro Llaneza finished the first round of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship Presented by P&G T-2 headed into the weekend after shooting a 5-under 66. The 66 was the low round of her career, previous best was a final round 67 (-4) at the 2014 Manulife Financial LPGA Classic.
“It was a good round, very consistent.” Llaneza said. “I was warming up on the range, didn’t feel great, so I send my coach a quick text and she gave me just a feeling to play with and it seemed to work. I just stayed patient all day. Since we had lift, clean and place and the course was a little wet, it was easy to go at pins and just be aggressive, and luckily I was able to stay aggressive all day.”
She has made the cut in five of seven tournaments played this season, including a 12th place finish is Kingsmill. As far as things she has been working on, she says it’s all strategy.
“Just being more aggressive when I can, taking advantage of as many opportunities as possible.” Llaneza said. “And especially I think it’s come down to trusting my putting stroke and the line and the speed that I feel at that moment.”
REST & TUNE UP
Alena Sharp conquered her struggles with the flatstick in the first round on Friday and has been searching for an improvement with her putting. She ranks 137th on Tour in putting average (31.34) and knows it’s the part of her game that has been holding her back. She had just 27 putts in her round on Friday and said after a quick putting lesson at home in her off week, things started clicking.
“Yeah, I’ve been playing well for the last couple months, I just haven’t putted well and I’ve just been working on it a lot the last couple weeks,” said Sharp. “Got a putting lesson from my old coach Jeff Moore up in Canada after the Waterloo event and been working on it for two weeks straight now and it’s starting to pay off. I’m trusting it more and just trying to relax. It’s been a part of my game that hasn’t been the greatest this year. I’ve hit a lot of greens and not making a lot of birdies, so today was definitely a step in the right direction.”
Sharp’s last LPGA event was three weeks ago at the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic in her home country of Canada and used the two-week gap afterward for a combination of rest but also some tune up.
“My sister had a baby a couple months ago, so I just hung out at home and took some time off,” said Sharp. “And then last week I played the Symetra Tour actually just to keep playing, so I think that was good, I think momentum from that last weekend.”
Sharp tied for 19th at the Four Winds Invitational in South Bend, Ind. last week. Her only other start on the Road to the LPGA this season was the season-opener in February which she won.
“The last two days out there I putted much better than I have been and started hitting the ball really well,” said Sharp. “Worked on stuff for the British, like punch shots, like three‑quarter shots because those have been not the greatest for me. I did that a lot today, which helped with the wind.”
COMFORTING WORDS FROM NO. 1
After her first round today, World No. 1 Stacy Lewis took some time to meet with a young fan from Springdale, Arkansas who has a big challenge in front of her. Brenna Dobson met with Lewis for nearly 10 minutes to talk about her upcoming scoliosis surgery in either August or November.
The 12-year old was able to ask questions from Lewis, who had scoliosis surgery when she was 18 years old. Her questions ranged from specifics about the surgery, if she will still be able to do yoga and if it hurts to sit during a car ride. Lewis explained in detail what to expect and even showed her how flexible she is still.
Lewis is a proven champion on the course, but an even better role model for young girls off the course.
Rolex Ranking No. 12 Paula Creamer withdrew from the tournament today due to a thumb injury - she was replaced by Kris Tamulis...Natalie Gulbis also withdrew with a hip injury and there was no alternate available to take her spot.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“I think it’s definitely struck me on the back nine a little bit tired, but I just was really excited to get out here and start playing again. New York was fun, but it’s just fun to get back to playing golf.”
-Michelle Wie on getting back to competition after a two-day media tour in New York City
THE SOCIAL SCENE
When you’re the U.S. Women’s Open champion, the fun never seems to stop. Michelle Wie appeared for a fun segment on LIVE! With Kelly and Micheal this morning at 9am (ET). Michelle Wie took to Instagram to show the great rapport she had with host Michael Strahan on the show.
You can watch the video here. http://link.brightcove.com/services/player/bcpid2738102973001?bckey=AQ~~,AAAAABGr2I4~,jeitpkmmkDnrhEOnEuKbPnxIbQnV0OgV&bctid=3646546812001
Alena Sharp, Rolex Rankings No. 234, -6
Q. Take me through the start and I guess the round in general. Very, very solid.
ALENA SHARP: Yeah, hit a lot of greens today, I only missed four greens. Drove it well, wasn't really in the rough at all so I got to lift, clean and place so got a perfect lie almost every time. Really didn't hit outside of 20 feet much, made a lot of putts. It was really simple. It was fun to just play and not be stressed and just relax and enjoy the day.
Q. You've played here a bunch, this is your sixth time back here.
ALENA SHARP: I think so.
Q. Coming into a week where you think you kind of know the course, a little bit more of a comfort level there?
ALENA SHARP: Yeah, and the greens are so perfect. I mean, they're rolling so smooth, it's almost like no one's played on the greens at all. There's hardly any divots on them. I think knowing the breaks helps, yeah. And then I got the speed down right away which was perfect. It's hard to get the judge of the speed this week with all the rain that we've had, but it's in great shape for all the rain that's fallen here this week.
Q. Yeah, how much did they hold up? Coming in were you a little nervous thinking it's going to be a little slow out there?
ALENA SHARP: Well, I drive it fairly far so I knew it was a little bit of an advantage carrying it further than some of the other girls. But it wasn't playing as long as I thought it would because the wind is not easy either.
Q. Talk about the wind, it was gusty kind of in the morning and then calmed down?
ALENA SHARP: Yeah, it's kind of switching, almost cornering on the holes on the front, so it plays across on those tougher holes coming in so it's definitely tricky.
Q. How big is lift, clean and place?
ALENA SHARP: Well, I mean, to get a perfect lie every time, it's huge I think. When we do play lift, clean and place the scores are always lower. If you're on a downhill or something you can move it a club length and it's always sitting up. I mean the fairways here, it always sits up anyways, but just having that extra being able to put it where you want.
Q. How did you get on such a roll there on the back? Well, the front actually, but definitely a roll.
ALENA SHARP: Yeah, I've been playing well for the last couple months, I just haven't putted well and I've just been working on it a lot the last couple weeks. Got a putting lesson from my old coach Jeff Moore up in Canada after the Waterloo event and been working on it for two weeks straight now and it's starting to pay off. I'm trusting it more and just trying to relax. It's been a part of my game that hasn't been the greatest this year. I've hit a lot of greens and not making a lot of birdies, so today was definitely a step in the right direction.
Q. Can you expand on that? You made a birdie on 1, 2 and 3 (inaudible), a pretty solid back nine for you, front nine on the course.
ALENA SHARP: Yeah, like I said, I hit a lot of greens and gave myself good chances at birdie. I was inside 20 feet most of the day and the greens are very smooth. Tried to just get it on the line and hope it goes in.
Q. Your second shot on No. 7 looked like you were shaking your head a little bit. Was it okay?
ALENA SHARP: Yeah, it was just in a weird lie. My feet were in the bunker and I had to grip right down to the metal. I guess that's why they have grips on the golf club because it definitely takes away the shock. My hand was kind of on the metal so it just was a little bit of a shocker after I hit it.
Q. How were the two weeks off since Waterloo? Did you do anything special? When was the last time you worked with your old coach?
ALENA SHARP: It was after Waterloo. I just went and got a quick putting lesson. It only was like half an hour and he fixed me. My sister had a baby a couple months ago, so I just hung out at home and took some time off. And then last week I played the Symetra Tour actually just to keep playing, so I think that was good, I think momentum from that last weekend.
Q. Niece or nephew?
ALENA SHARP: Nephew.
Q. Where are they based?
ALENA SHARP: Hamilton, just outside of Waterloo.
Q. So home?
ALENA SHARP: Yep.
Q. What happened on No. 5?
ALENA SHARP: I just hit the wrong club in. It hit on the slope and it sucked back all the way off the green to the front. And it's a tough chip with that pin on the ridge, so I didn't chip it close and missed the par putt. But other than that it was just a bad club selection right from the middle of the fairway.
Q. What did you hit?
ALENA SHARP: It was 105 into the wind and I tried to hit a punch gap wedge and I should have hit pitching wedge. I got a little greedy, I guess.
Q. What was your Symetra finish?
ALENA SHARP: I think I finished 19th. The last day I hit every green and shot 3‑under.
Q. Where was it?
ALENA SHARP: South Bend.
Q. That's a nice course.
ALENA SHARP: Yeah.
Q. So you think that was kind of a good little tune‑up?
ALENA SHARP: Yeah, I mean, the last two days out there I putted much better than I have been and started hitting the ball really well. Worked on stuff for the British, like punch shots, like three‑quarter shots because those have been not the greatest for me. I did that a lot today, which helped with the wind.
Michelle Wie, Rolex Rankings No. 7, -5
Q. Take us through it. Were you a little tired? Feel like you're running on fumes a little bit?
MICHELLE WIE: Definitely running on fumes right now. I think I had a couple loose shots coming in. I think it's definitely struck me on the back nine a little bit tired, but I just was really excited to get out here and start playing again. New York was fun, but it's just fun to get back to playing golf.
Q. Was it hard to kind of turn the switch off, or turn the switch on, I mean, back to business, let's do it, or does it come easy?
MICHELLE WIE: It came pretty easily. I was actually quite shocked. I thought it was going to be a little harder. I definitely slept for 12 hours last night, will definitely be going to bed in the next hour, two hours or so. But yeah, I felt like it was great the weather held up, I could play all 18 holes yesterday. That definitely helped.
Q. To be able to come out here and shoot a bogey‑free 5‑under first round, what's that say about everything you've gone through this week?
MICHELLE WIE: I just had fun this week. I was definitely a bit tired coming in but I'm excited for tomorrow morning.
Q. I'm now joined by Michelle Wie, just turned in a 5‑under here at the Walmart Northwest Arkansas Championship, one shot off the lead. Michelle, great round. You said coming in here you didn't know how you were going to play, maybe be a little tired. Tell us how you put that round together.
MICHELLE WIE: Yeah, definitely running on fumes right now but I'm excited to be here in Arkansas. The crowds are amazing. Just feels great to play golf again.
Q. You said it was a little easier just to turn the switch back on from the media tour to get back into game mode. You thought it was maybe a little easier than you expected?
MICHELLE WIE: Yeah, I think so. I think, you know, I got lucky to play 18 holes yesterday in the pro‑am. The weather definitely held up, which is nice. It definitely gave me confidence to play today. But definitely it would have been harder if I had a morning tee time today. I was really happy about this late afternoon tee time. Glad to sleep in, got my 12 hours of sleep, and hopefully I'll get to bed in about an hour and a half now.
Q. Talk about the momentum. How much momentum ‑‑ we overuse that word, but how did it really transfer over from last week. You said you're on cloud nine, but how much of that positive energy has come over to here to Rogers?
MICHELLE WIE: Yeah, I think, you know, it definitely helped my confidence. I just feel comfortable out there and I'm trying to keep improving a little bit every day and still working on a lot of things, but I'm trying to get better.
Alejandra Llaneza, Rolex Rankings No. 273, -5
Q. I'm joined by Alejandra Llaneza. Alejandra, great round today, 5‑under. You head to the clubhouse in sole possession of second. Take me through your round today.
ALEJANDRA LLANEZA: It was a good round, very consistent. I was warming up on the range, didn't feel great, so I send my coach a quick text and she gave me just a feeling to play with and it seemed to work. I just stayed patient all day. Since we had lift, clean and place and the course was a little wet, it was easy to go at pins and just be aggressive, and luckily I was able to stay aggressive all day.
Q. Has that ever happened before, where you weren't feeling too great and did your coach ever help you in a situation like this before?
ALEJANDRA LLANEZA: Yeah, I mean, it's happened both ways. Sometimes you just have to go out and figure it out on the course and play with what you have that day. So luckily I was able to get in touch with her. But I felt pretty good. I noticed towards the end I was, of course, getting a little nervous, so I just stayed patient and stayed with my game plan and hit some good shots that my caddie and I had to figure out.
Q. Now, is there anything you've been working on lately that has contributed to you playing so well over the last few weeks?
ALEJANDRA LLANEZA: I think just strategy, just being more aggressive when I can, taking advantage of as many opportunities as possible. And especially I think it's come down to trusting my putting stroke and the line and the speed that I feel at that moment.
Q. Now, coming off nine here, you had a fellow countrywoman, Gaby Lopez, there to greet you. Can you talk about that support and that relationship?
ALEJANDRA LLANEZA: Yeah, yeah, that was great. Her and her family, we belong to the same club in Mexico and we played in the Spirit Amateur Cup together, so we know each other really well. It's nice to have someone else from Mexico playing in the same tournament, and she's had a great college career, so it was a lot of fun to hear the Mexico name when I finished.
Q. And finally, what's your approach heading into tomorrow in such a good position?
ALEJANDRA LLANEZA: Just the same page, just practice a little bit this afternoon, relax. Tomorrow is an afternoon tee time, so just stay patient, one shot at a time and hopefully it will work out.
Stacy Lewis, Rolex Rankings No. 1, -1
Q. Can you just take us through the early shaky part?
STACY LEWIS: Yeah, I got off to a terrible start. I was 2‑over through five holes. I really I thought if I could get anything back under par I would be doing pretty good today, so I feel good that I did that. But I just left a lot out there. Everything just seemed to be a little bit off. I had a bunch of putts right on the edge of the hole. I did some good stuff. But I also did some things I could do better.
Q. Was it hard to maybe manage the excitement? The crowd was big.
STACY LEWIS: Yeah, I mean it's always hard playing here. People, I don't think they quite realize how hard it is. There's a lot of pressure and it's hard to not put too much pressure on yourself. But once we got out there and relaxed a little bit and made a few putts, it got a little bit easier as the day went on.
Q. What do you expect out of tomorrow and the next day?
STACY LEWIS: Just more of the same. You know, I think it only gets crazier as the weekend goes on, but I've got to get out tomorrow morning and shoot a better score and just get in contention and give myself a chance for Sunday and see what happens.
Q. You almost hold a shot on nine, you almost holed a shot on 11. Take us through that three‑hole stretch.
STACY LEWIS: Yeah, on nine I actually drove it in the fairway bunker and almost holed it out with a pitching wedge from there. And then 11 was pretty cool, it was an 8‑iron actually in the air, I thought that was going in and it just hopped right around the hole.
Q. You talked about being 2‑over through five. You made that with the putt I guess past the hole for birdie then made the big (inaudible) to keep it from sliding any further?
STACY LEWIS: Yeah, I think the putt on five and the putt on six were both huge. They really got me going in the right direction. I started to hit some better shots from there. The greens are so much slower than last week, it's hard to get it in your head. But I'm going to go work on a few things and I think we'll be all right for tomorrow.
Q. What was going through your mind during that rough start for you?
STACY LEWIS: I don't know, it's just golf. Sometimes you get off to a bad start. I had to make a little bit of an adjustment hitting out of the fairways, the grass is just really long. They haven't been able to get the mowers out there, so I had to hit shots a little bit differently than I wanted to. But, you know, you've got to adjust out there and play what the course gives you.
Gaby Lopez, Sponsor Invite, -1
GABY LOPEZ: I feel very confident and very comfortable with my game today. And with my coach on the bag it was an amazing experience, we both enjoyed it.
Q. Going into tomorrow, what do you have to do?
GABY LOPEZ: Just follow my golf plan and just commit to every single shot and stay patient and just think about (inaudible) and go with my plan. I think staying patient is going to be the key.
Q. 1‑under par, could you have asked for a better round going into today?
GABY LOPEZ: Well, I didn't ‑‑
GABY LOPEZ: Obviously I think I left a lot of birdies out there but I think I did a great job in bunkers, in one bunker. And I think that, I don't know, just getting the confidence coming with finally I came here and, I don't know, I just think I played very well.
Q. How good does this feel here after you missed the cut last year?
GABY LOPEZ: Well, just motivation, inspiration to come tomorrow and just to finish strong and keep playing and doing whatever I do the best, so just enjoy it.
Q. How critical was it to finish the way you did, get that birdie?
GABY LOPEZ: I think it was very critical. I expect a birdie coming on the stretch and I think that putt on No. 8 and then last putt on No. 9 were just good omens for tomorrow. Just get excited and very comfortable for tomorrow.
Q. It looks like it's pretty easy to score out there if you hit it pretty well?
GABY LOPEZ: Right. I hit a lot of greens in regulation today and I hit 14 fairways, so I give myself a lot of opportunities to score, to go low and I think I deserve it. I don't know, just confident with my game.