Walmart NW Arkansas Championship Presented by P&G Wednesday Notes and Interviews

Photo Credit: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Stacy Lewis plays a shot on the 14th hole during the second round of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship Presented by P&G at the Pinnacle Hills Country Club on June 22, 2013 in Rogers, Arkansas.

Stacy Lewis, Rolex Rankings No. 1
Inbee Park, Rolex Rankings No. 2
Lydia Ko, Rolex Rankings No. 3

The LPGA Tour makes its eighth stop to the NW Arkansas region this week for the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship Presented by P&G. Local favorite and world No. 1 Stacy Lewis is fresh off a runner-up finish at the U.S. Women’s Open where she had a final-round charge of 66 and came up two shots shy of eventual champion Michelle Wie. The University of Arkansas alum will be making her eighth appearance at the event and has had three top-10 finishes in Rogers including a tie for fourth last season.

Inbee Park will be making her fourth title defense of the 2014 season this week and looks to get back on track after finishing tied for 43rd last week in Pinehurst. Four other past champions are also in the field including Seon Hwa Lee (2008), Yani Tseng (2010 & 2011), Ai Miyazato (2012). Nineteen of the top-20 players on the LPGA Tour Official Money List will be in action this week.

SWEET RETURN
Stacy Lewis’ return to NW Arkansas this year might just be the sweetest of the past previous seven appearances she has made at this event. Lewis comes back to Arkansas with the most hype surrounding her as she currently holds the title of ‘No. 1 player in the world.’ The region is already Stacy crazy and Lewis

“Well, I think I come back here every year and it seems to kind of move up the rankings every year,” said Lewis. “Coming back here is always special. It’s great to get back and see a lot of family and friends that I haven’t seen in a while. I love coming here. It definitely gets crazier, it doesn’t get any easier coming back. It definitely gets busier and busier every year but it’s a good problem to have. I love playing this golf course and I know it like the back of my hand, so I don’t have to practice on it a whole lot this week.

Lewis has played well at Pinnacle Country Club and has three top-10 finishes including a tie for fourth last year. Lewis led the event as amateur after 18 holes in the event’s inaugural year in 2007 before getting washed out by rain. Lewis said the event had to get the ok from her to make I <3 Stacy shirts for the week. She said she has to mentally prepare for a week like this and expects to see the T-shirts everywhere.

“I definitely have to prepare myself,” said Lewis. “For me it’s never easy, it’s not -- you know, they sent me an email asking me if the T shirts were okay and that’s one of those things that you say yes to it. Then I found out the T shirts sold out, so they reordered some more and I’ll be signing I’m sure all of them this week.”

“It’s something that I do have to prepare myself for, it’s not something that comes to me naturally,” said Lewis. “You have to have some patience with it, just going places and being recognized. Sometimes you just want to sit there and have dinner and not worry about it, but that’s just not the case here this week at least for me. I’m just trying to be patient with it but at the same time enjoy it because nobody else on tour gets what I get here.”

Stacy Lewis’ Record at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship
2007 led after 18 holes (rain-shortened)*
2008 T49*
2009 T21
2010 T9
2011 T8
2012 T19
2013 T4
*Played as an amateur

FAMILIAR SENSE
The No. 3 player in the world, Lydia Ko, was star struck three days ago. All around her were PGA pros, players she’d only seen on TV until she arrived to Pinehurst No. 2 last Saturday. And her caddie for the week, Fluff Cowan, she joked might have been more famous than her. No one quite embraced the USGA’s same stage idea like Ko.

“It was a pretty awesome week being back to back. That doesn’t happen often and it was the first time it’s been done that way. I enjoyed that experience having to watch the men,” Ko said.

The 15th place finish was her best at a U.S. Open, and the prodigy has frequently been drawing comparisons to another former prodigy in the field this week – the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open champion Michelle Wie.

“People have been calling me things that she was called a couple years ago, and she’s playing awesome golf. She has the last year or so,” Ko said. “I mean, people kind of, I think, had doubts maybe of Michelle, but she’s proven herself that she’s a major winner. It kind of gives me more hope that I can become a player like her, a player as successful and good as her.”

Ko had plenty of success at this tournament a year ago, finishing in a tie for 4th as a 16-year-old. The tournaments one of her favorites of the year and gives her confidence knowing she’s already played the golf course with this being her rookie year on the LPGA Tour.

“I don’t know many of the golf courses out here so I feel lucky that I have played this one,” she said. “It’s a little less pressure on me so that I don’t need to push myself to kind of get all the work done before Friday.”

MENTOR ROLE
Stacy Lewis plays the ambassador role for the LPGA Tour on a global scale every time she tees it up. But this week she paid it forward on a local level. Lewis had a practice round with University of Arkansas rising junior Gabby Lopez on Tuesday and said loves getting the opportunity to help out the college program that gave her so much.

“I love working with the girls and being able to -- I didn’t get to one this year, but I try to at least get to a tournament and get out there and support them,” said Lewis. “For me when I was at school, I’m the only player from Arkansas to play on the LPGA. So I just want to give them someone to look up to and someone they’re comfortable around and they can ask questions and how do you do this and how do you do that.”

Lewis said she’s seen Lopez mature since she arrived in Fayetteville and says she appreciates young players taking in information from veterans on Tour.

“When Gabby first came in as a freshman she was a little shy and hesitant, but as she’s grown up a little bit she’s more outgoing, willing to ask the questions and so willing to learn. I think she’s going to be a great, great little player when she’s done here,” said Lewis. “You can see her just kind of soaking everything in and I love doing that. I do that with some of the girls on tour even that are coming out on their rookie year. So I love -- I try to show them how to do things right and then when they come and ask questions, I love doing that stuff.”

TIME FOR THE ESPYS
Five LPGA Tour players are featured in the opened voting that started yesterday for the annual ESPY awards hosted by ESPN. Inbee Park was nominated for Best International Athlete alongside the likes of tennis star Rafael Nadal, soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo and Formula One driver Sebastian Vettel.

Paula Creamer’s 75-foot eagle putt at the HSBC Women’s Champions was nominated for Best Play and is currently head-to-head with SMU football team’s two-point conversion against Rutgers.

Park was also nominated for Best Female Golfer and is joined by Rolex Rankings No. 1 Stacy Lewis, No. 4 Suzann Pettersen and 2014 U.S. Women’s Open champion Michelle Wie as nominees. Click here to cast your vote.

LEWIS INDUCTED
World No. 1 Stacy Lewis was announced yesterday as part of the 2014 University of Arkansas Sports Hall of Honor class. Lewis was a four-time all-American at the University of Arkansas and won the NCAA individual national title as a senior in 2007.

“It’s pretty cool,” said Lewis. “I actually found out a couple weeks ago. I didn’t quite know when it was going to be announced. It’s just such a cool thing. Coming here for school, I didn’t even plan on playing professional golf, didn’t plan on being inducted in the Hall of Fame and things like that. That wasn’t in the plan at all. All this stuff, it’s just really a bonus. To get to share that with my coaches and my friends and my family, I mean, that’s the biggest thing is the people around you, getting to share it with them.”

The UA is the second hall to already enshrine Lewis, 28. She was also inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 2013. The UA will recognize this year’s class with an induction ceremony Sept. 6 at the Holiday Inn in Springdale.

QUOTE OF THE DAY
“Well, this tour is in such a great place. I stood there on 18 kind of just taking in the scene when Michelle was finishing and it was one of the coolest things I think I’ve ever seen. Just to think about how many millions of people were watching us, having probably the biggest star on our tour winning on the biggest stage in golf, I mean, we couldn’t have asked for a better week. Just the way it kind of got close there at the end and made Michelle work for it, it was great TV.

We’re raising purses, we’re playing on great golf courses. The guys were talking about us, which that was huge last week. The tour has so much positive momentum right now with a lot of the young Americans winning. I could go on and on about all the good things happening right now, but it’s just really cool to see it from a player’s perspective and see the time and effort we’re putting into it to see it kind of happening.”
-Stacy Lewis on the recent upswing of the LPGA Tour

TV COVERAGE
Golf Channel will once again be covering the LPGA this week at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship Presented by P&G. The airtimes are as follows:
Friday 9:00-11:00pm (EST)
Saturday 5:00-7:00pm (EST)
Sunday 2:00-5:00pm (EST)

Stacy Lewis, Rolex Rankings No. 1

MODERATOR:  Well, it is my pleasure to welcome in the world No. 1 player in the world Stacy Lewis.  I think most importantly this week I would like to say former University of Arkansas Razorback, Stacy Lewis. 

Stacy, talk about coming into this week ranked No. 1.  Obviously this is one of your favorite stops all year, but how much more special is it to come here No. 1 in the Rolex Rankings?

STACY LEWIS:  Well, I think I come back here every year and it seems to kind of move up the rankings every year.  Coming back here is always special.  It's great to get back and see a lot of family and friends that I haven't seen in a while.  I love coming here.  It definitely gets crazier, it doesn't get any easier coming back.  It definitely gets busier and busier every year but it's a good problem to have.  I love playing this golf course and I know it like the back of my hand, so I don't have to practice on it a whole lot this week.

MODERATOR:  I knew you were a big deal here but I walked in the clubhouse and I saw in the trophy case a T‑shirt that says "I love Stacy."  I'm not sure if you ever really get used to that, but I know you said you've gotten better at handling the attention, handling the extra things you have to do off the course.  Is this a week where you say I have to mentally prepare myself going into this, or do you enjoy it for the most now?

STACY LEWIS:  I definitely have to prepare myself.  For me it's never easy, it's not -- you know, they sent me an email asking me if the T‑shirts were okay and that's one of those things that you say yes to it.  Then I found out the T‑shirts sold out, so they reordered some more and I'll be signing I'm sure all of them this week.  It's something that I do have to prepare myself for, it's not something that comes to me naturally.  You have to have some patience with it, just going places and being recognized.  Sometimes you just want to sit there and have dinner and not worry about it, but that's just not the case here this week at least for me.  I'm just trying to be patient with it but at the same time enjoy it because nobody else on tour gets what I get here.

MODERATOR:  Now, riding on a very large wave of momentum coming off the runner‑up finish at the U.S. Women's Open last week, pretty much just typical Stacy Lewis in that final round.  I loved your quote that said, Anybody who knows me knows I'm not giving up.  Talk about that finish and how much that showed of what your character is and what you're all about, never giving up and giving it that last run.

STACY LEWIS:  Well, after the first day I knew a low round was out there.  I got the first day, I could have shot 63 or 64 pretty easily if I just made a few putts, so I knew a low score was out there.  That's what I kept telling myself and I really just wanted to play better.  I didn't play well on Friday or Saturday, so I just really wanted to play better.  Just coming out, I mean, I think on the front nine I birdied probably the four hardest holes on the front nine I birdied.  It's just me, it's just the way I play.  I never give up.  I honestly thought Michelle still had I think six holes to play when I finished.  I thought I had a pretty legitimate shot at it.  Those last few holes played really hard, and for me to birdie 17 and 18 and post even par, I definitely think it gave Michelle something to think about.  You know, that's what I was most proud of is that I went out there and fought.  I could have shot an even par, shot a couple over, and come here and been fine with it, but I was just proud of the way I hung in there.

MODERATOR:  Questions for Stacy?

Q.  We had a chance to talk to Gabi a little bit yesterday and she's really glowing about getting to play a practice round with you.  Talk about how much it means for you to be a mentor.  What's it like for you to come back this week and how important is that mentor type role whenever you come back to Arkansas?

STACY LEWIS:  Well, I'm technically the volunteer assistant, so I guess it's part of the job a little bit.  But I love working with the girls and being able to -- I didn't get to one this year, but I try to at least get to a tournament and get out there and support them.  For me when I was at school, I'm the only player from Arkansas to play on the LPGA.  So I just want to give them someone to look up to and someone they're comfortable around and they can ask questions and how do you do this and how do you do that.  When Gabi first came in as a freshman she was a little shy and hesitant, but as she's grown up a little bit she's more outgoing, willing to ask the questions and so willing to learn.  I think she's going to be a great, great little player when she's done here.  You can see her just kind of soaking everything in and I love doing that.  I do that with some of the girls on tour even that are coming out on their rookie year.  So I love -- I try to show them how to do things right and then when they come and ask questions, I love doing that stuff.

Q.  Completely different question but obviously Lucy Li was such a big kind of talking point last week and talked about wanting to see some of the younger kids do it at different levels.  Is that something you draw from kind of your own process growing up, and I guess where do you come from when you say that?

STACY LEWIS:  Yeah, I mean, part of that is from my experience but it's also from experience of being -- seeing some girls come out of college early and not be successful, seeing girls maybe turn pro at too young of an age.  I think in the position, I'm in now I get to see a lot of things happen.  And there's definitely some girls I've talked to, they wished they could go back and maybe go to college for a couple years instead of turning pro.  It's kind of from watching. 

I'm more concerned about these kids turning pro early socially, and it's a hard life when you're 18 years old, it really is.  You don't know how to travel by yourself, you don't know how to do things by yourself, so you have your parents there.  But then how do you hang out with your friends when your parents are there?  So it's a hard transition for a young kid.  I just wish they had time to grow up and be a kid without all these lights on them.

Q.  Stacy, this is a little twofold, but a lot has changed in the last year.  This time last year Inbee had won two majors.  You go to the Solheim Cup, Americans again not playing too well.  You individually, you're back at No. 1.  That has transpired this year.  But has there been a turning point for you personally and maybe for the American contingent, you know, as well because I think the Americans have won seven of the last nine tournaments.

STACY LEWIS:  Um‑hmm.

Q.  Can you kind of describe individually and maybe as the U.S. the turning point?

STACY LEWIS:  I think the wake‑up call for I think all the Americans was that Solheim Cup last year.  We just got flat out outplayed.  The Europeans just kicked our butts, and it was a wake‑up call that we had to work harder, we had to play better and that's what I think you're seeing now.  I said at the time, I said that -- I said it last year that we have the talent.  The young Americans have the talent, it's just not quite getting the job done.  So I think the Solheim Cup was a big wake‑up call, and Jess winning early in the year, Paula winning early, we've just really got some good momentum going. 

For me, I mean, I've been -- gosh, I feel like I've been playing so steady over the last year and a half.  I wouldn't say there's necessarily been one turning point or another, it's just been consistently putting myself in position to win.  I think I've had four seconds this year.  I would have loved to have obviously won a couple of those, but I've got to just keep putting myself in position to win because that's how you become No. 1 in the world.  It's by always being there, always hanging around.  Like I did on Sunday, that's how you become No. 1.  You don't become No. 1 by finishing 25th every week.  You've got to just keep knocking on the door and that's kind of what I do best.

Q.  (Inaudible).  Induction into the University of Arkansas Hall of Honor?  

STACY LEWIS:  It's pretty cool.  I actually found out a couple weeks ago.  I didn't quite know when it was going to be announced.  It's just such a cool thing.  Coming here for school, I didn't even plan on playing professional golf, didn't plan on being inducted in the Hall of Fame and things like that.  That wasn't in the plan at all.  All this stuff, it's just really a bonus.  To get to share that with my coaches and my friends and my family, I mean, that's the biggest thing is the people around you, getting to share it with them.

Q.  You talked about the attention here, probably for you more than any other golfer, any other tournament.  Do you put more pressure on yourself here to win than other tournaments in the past do you think?  Is there more pressure on you here?

STACY LEWIS:  Oh, yeah.  Actually Paula and I were talking about it on Sunday, she was asking me if I was getting ready to come here.  She was talking about playing, we used to have a tournament in northern California where she grew up, and she's like, you know, it's like a fifth or sixth major, I don't know how many majors we have now, but I guess it would be like a sixth major.  It's almost harder, for me it's almost harder to play here than it is to play at a major championship just because it's great that everybody wants me to win and everybody wants me to play well, but I try to -- to not put that pressure on yourself is really hard.  To not try too hard, you have to just kind of take care of what you can control.  I can't control what all these other girls are going to do.  If somebody goes out there and shoots lights out, I did what I can do, but just trying not to put too much pressure on myself.

Q.  At the same time there's some pretty cool things they do for you.  They're playing making a big deal of 17 and the hog calls and that.  While you're trying to block that out, is it at the same time pretty cool the things you have that nobody else has here like that?

STACY LEWIS:  Oh, yeah.  I mean, Paula had that in California but I don't think there's any other place on tour that supports someone individually like this tournament supports me.  There's no one else that has it.  It's definitely an honor, it's such a cool thing.  The players joke that they always know where I am on the golf course judging by the hog calls and where all the fans are.  Their big question is who is going to get paired with me the first two days and who's going to get that.  So it's a lot of fun.  I think 17 over the years has gotten a lot of fun.  I think the players are really starting to embrace it, especially this year it's built up a lot better.  This tournament has grown over the years and the players are supporting it and it's just become such a cool event.

Q.  Stacy, I know you were No. 1 for a time last year but you came here as No. 2.  You're here now as No. 1.  What kind of effect does that have on you?  Is it almost an affirmation, does it make you relax a little bit coming into this week?  And following up on him, do you still want more?

STACY LEWIS:  I don't think you relax now that you're No. 1 in the world.  Now everybody's gunning for me.  It's almost a harder place to be because everybody's chasing you.  You know, it's nice, the No. 1 thing, it's just nice to see all your hard work paying off.  That's really what it is.  It's all the time, all the energy, everything you've put into it, it's nice to see yourself accomplishing goals and get to that point.  Now it's staying there, it's how am I going to stay there, and it's doing exactly what I did to get here.  You don't change anything, you don't do anything different, you're the same person.  Nothing really changes other than there's a 1 instead of a 2.  That's what I've tried to do the last two weeks and it seems to be working so far so that's what I'm going to try to do going forward.

Q.  Two parts, Stacy.  One, have you gotten a lot of good feedback, positive feedback, from the way that you congratulated Michelle for winning the U.S. Women's Open?  And then, two, Shauna was there last week.  What does it mean to have her, did she help you at that event?

STACY LEWIS:  First with Michelle, since Solheim Cup and since I moved to Florida, Michelle and I, we've become good friends.  She started working out with my trainer in January, so we work out together when we're home.  We practice together, play some golf together when we're home.  So to go out there and congratulate her, that's what I would do for any of my friends, whether it's Michelle or whoever it is.  Any of my friends, they win, I'm going out there to congratulate them. 

It was kind of strange that people thought it was so cool that I went and did that.  That's just me, that's who I am, I would have done that for anybody.  I'm not the champagne and beer spraying type, so I let the other girls take care of that. 

But then as far as Shauna there, she was at the British Open when I won last summer.  We didn't really talk much golf there, it was more just kind of nice having her there.  But then going to Pinehurst, she said she wanted to come just because she loves the Opens and things like that.  So I asked her to come and we rented a house and hung out with a bunch of people for the week.  She's so great with the short game, that's what I knew I needed at Pinehurst, so I asked her to come out and during a practice round we chipped a lot.  She kind of showed me a few shots.  She's still for me somebody I go to when anything's going wrong, when I need advice on something, when I need help with my golf game, she's one of the first people I still call to this day.  So to have her there when I won the British was really, really cool and also having her last week was super helpful too. 

MODERATOR:  One big picture question.  I know last week, I think after your round on Sunday, you said what a great example this week of the trend that the LPGA Tour is kind of going towards, network TV, playing on the best courses, increased purses.  What do you have to say about the trend that I know you said is something you want to see and you're doing ambassador‑type work.  How happy are you to see the trends and where the tour's going?

STACY LEWIS:  Well, this tour is in such a great place.  I stood there on 18 kind of just taking in the scene when Michelle was finishing and it was one of the coolest things I think I've ever seen.  Just to think about how many millions of people were watching us, having probably the biggest star on our tour winning on the biggest stage in golf, I mean, we couldn't have asked for a better week.  Just the way it kind of got close there at the end and made Michelle work for it, it was great TV.  We're raising purses, we're playing on great golf courses.  The guys were talking about us, which that was huge last week.  The tour has so much positive momentum right now with a lot of the young Americans winning.  I could go on and on about all the good things happening right now, but it's just really cool to see it from a player's perspective and see the time and effort we're putting into it to see it kind of happening.

Q.  What's your favorite part of tournament week?

STACY LEWIS:  You know, probably for me, you know, probably the 17th hole.  The 17th hole, as far as the golf side, the 17th hole, I mean, we don't have that anywhere else on tour and just the way the fans get into it here and the crowds that we get.  I love the 17th hole.  But at the same time, probably the best part for me is just getting back and able to see friends and see a lot of people that I don't normally get to see when I'm on the road.  It's nice to really come to a place that was home for a long time. 

Q.  Some of the talk shows in Arkansas and radio, you'll hear about who's the greatest pro to ever come out of the University of Arkansas, and suddenly your name is getting mentioned quite a bit with John Daly and Lance Alworth.  What's that mean to you?

STACY LEWIS:  That I've been out of school long enough?  Getting older is what that means, right? 

Yeah, I mean, it's an honor because, like I said, I didn't come here to break records or set records or do anything like that.  I just came here to get an education and play golf.  Everything that I've gotten to do along the way has been such a blessing and I don't think it would have happened if I had gone to school anywhere else.  So I feel like I owe a lot to this place and this university and this town.  The way they've kind of -- I'm from Texas, it's not really -- Arkansans don't really like Texans very much, so the way people kind of brought me in and made me feel like home.  Wherever I go, there was a guy at the U.S. Open last week running around with a big hog hat on.  Wherever I go there's an Arkansas fan and it's just been really cool for me to see how it's kind of elevated and grown over the last few years.

Q.  (Inaudible) just how big this tournament has become, getting the top golfers on this Tour to come to this tournament especially after the U.S. Women's Open last week, how big is that?

STACY LEWIS:  Probably the best part, the best way they're getting the field is a three‑day event, so everybody's got a day off to rest.  But the girls love this event.  We love coming here.  Great restaurants, great hotels.  Actually, a lot of girls stay in housing with families.  It's really just kind of a hometown feel and certainly one of the biggest purses that we have on tour so that helps, too.  It really is, I think if you would ask players to kind of rank the tournaments just overall golf course, you know, everything around it, I think this tournament is right up there with some of the majors.  It really is one of the best tournaments that we have and I think that's what you see in the field.

MODERATOR:  Also importantly, what can we expect to be tossed out at the 17th hole, or is that a surprise?

STACY LEWIS:  I'm still working on that, I still have to work on that.

MODERATOR:  Any other questions for Stacy?

Q.  You're very popular with the younger kids.  A whole bunch of them were waving their hats around bragging how they got your signature.  What does that mean to you to have the opportunity to have that kind of interaction with the younger ones as well?

STACY LEWIS:  Well, I love -- I've tried to make time for the kids more than anybody just because I want to grow the game of golf and I want to get more girls and more boys even playing golf.  So I try to take care of the kids as best as I can. 

I remember being that little kid.  I remember when I was seven, eight years old and going to Toledo, Ohio, to the tournament and Vicki Goetz came up and talked to me and I got her autograph.  I still have it to this day.  As a kid, you remember those.  Whether it's just spending 30 seconds with a kid, the kid's going to remember that for the rest of their lives.  That's what I try to tell myself and remember when I'm talking to those kids.  It's pretty cool to see them go running back to their parents and they're all excited that they got to meet you and get your autograph.

Q.  Stacy, could you talk about this Hall of Honor induction a little bit more?  I know you touched on it briefly, but what does that mean to you to be mentioned with the all‑time greats athletically speaking there at the university?

STACY LEWIS:  Well, it's a huge honor.  I think just to be included in that list of, you know, some of the great athletes in general that have come through this university, it's a huge honor.  It's something that I don't think a lot of the women female golfers are even on that list.  Hopefully it will keep the trend going of getting more golfers in there.  You know, it's not -- gosh, I don't even know what to say because it's not something I ever planned on or ever thinking that I would be there.  So just to, you know, just to play good golf and get an education and then look at all these things that have happened from that, it's crazy the journey that I've been on over the last few years.  It's cool that I'll be able to come back for that week and just be able to thank a lot of people that helped make it possible.  You know, athletic directors, the coaches, they all took a chance on me coming out of school and just to be able to come back and say thank you will be pretty cool.

Q.  Having gone to school here are there some local places that you specifically like to visit and what kind of impact do you hope this tournament has on Northwest Arkansas?

STACY LEWIS:  I think my usual visits are usually food places.  I usually have my restaurants but most of them are actually down in Fayetteville that I like to go to from the college days.  Got to go to Joe's and Herman's and Flynn's.  You've got to hit up all the good food spots around here.

This tournament, I think you look at the dollars we've raised for the communities over the years and the impact with the kids and getting more kids involved in golf and coming out to this tournament, I mean, all the events we have going on whether it's the Pantene Beautiful Lengths, The First Tee pro‑am on Monday, the big pro‑am today, there's a college day.  There's just so many little things that go on within this tournament that benefit this community.  That's really what our tournaments are about, is raising that money for charity and thanking the area that brings us here, thanking them for having us for the week.


Inbee Park, Rolex Rankings No. 2

MODERATOR:  All right, it is now my pleasure to welcome in Rolex Rankings No. 2 and defending champ this week, Inbee Park. 

Inbee, welcome back to Arkansas.  It's your fourth time this year coming into an event as the defending champion.  Are you getting used to it by now?  Is it any different coming in as a defending champ?

INBEE PARK:  Yeah, this is I think it was my fourth time coming in as defending champion.  The more time I experience it I get more used to it.  Obviously this week's just one of my favorite weeks.  And the golf course, you know, I seem like I play really well on this golf course every year I come.  That obviously was the best last year.  It reminds me of very good memories when I come here.  Yeah, I just love to be being here and playing here.

MODERATOR:  Talk about the year so far.  You've had some ups and downs.  You were struggling with your putting, you came back, had a win at Manulife and you were putting amazing.  Last week a little bit of a falter.  Talk about the ups and downs of this year and how your outlook has been in 2014.

INBEE PARK:  Yeah, I struggled a little bit with my putting earlier in the year, and obviously three weeks ago in Canada I played really well and putted really well and got my confidence, a lot of it back three weeks ago.  But I took a week off and played the Open.  I feel like I put good strokes on the ball but it just didn't go in last week, seems like the hole didn't like it.  But I definitely feel like I was putting a better stroke, that's for sure.  A little bit different to earlier in the year where the ball was offline right away. 

So yeah, it was just a little bit of bad luck and obviously the golf course was playing really firm and hard.  It's always tough for me when golf courses is playing firm and hard with my low ball striking and less spin.  So this week seems like we're getting enough rain to hold the ball very softly.  And yeah, this golf course always suited my game, so yeah, looking forward to it.

MODERATOR:  You look forward to that.  Talk about you said good memories here obviously winning last year, but it was in between your second and third major win.  How big was that win here to kind of catapult you or get that momentum going into the U.S. Women's Open to get your third major win, how huge was that?

INBEE PARK:  Yeah, I mean because this week was before the Open last year and I remember playing this week and with huge confidence next week going into U.S. Open with huge confidence.  I think this week really helped me a lot to go into the U.S. Open.  It was exactly same as this year.  This year I won the week before U.S. Open and last year I did it and then I won the U.S. Open but this year didn't happen, last week didn't happen.  So hopefully this week is going to be another one.  I'm going back home to Korea after this week, so also looking forward to that, so yeah, some good stuff coming around.

MODERATOR:  Good.  Any special plans for your week off or not looking past that that far?

INBEE PARK:  I'm just going to be there like three, four days, so it's not long.  Really looking forward to get to see my dog and get to see my family.  Yeah, I haven't seen them for a while.

MODERATOR:  It's always a highlight, good.  Questions for Inbee, please use the microphone.

Q.  Inbee, difference between this year and last year you've touched on.  Can you attribute the difference in your playing to one particular thing?  What I'm getting at, the Americans have really played well this year, they've won both majors.  Is it a matter of your game, their game, anything in particular?

INBEE PARK:  I think this year definitely the American players definitely stepped up the game and they're definitely playing better golf than they did last year, that's for sure. 

I feel like, I mean, I'm not putting as good as last year, that's for sure.  But every other part, I think going into the greens, like tee to the green is probably better than last year, but around the greens and on the greens I'm probably losing like a shot or two per round.  I think that's really bringing my scoring average higher than last year.  But just waiting for the putter to work again.  Once I get a couple weeks with a good putter, then I'll get my confidence back and get my feel back.  Seems like it's working for one week and then it's off again.  It's hard to find the good rhythm.

Q.  Does the crowd reaction to Stacy Lewis kind of make this tournament different and is that a distraction at all?  Do players kind of get a kick out of how that works?

INBEE PARK:  It's not a distraction for sure.  I know she went to college around here and she has a good, you know, a lot of fans around here.  It's always good to have a good attraction of fans around.  I mean, No. 17 on this golf course is great.  I think every year we come it gets bigger and bigger and the crowd gets excited, we get excited.  So yeah, it's good to have something like that, that's very special.

Q.  Inbee, basically to follow up on a while ago, the difference between last year, this year.  You went from No. 1 to No. 2, now you're chasing Stacy.  Does it have a different feel for you now or are you feeling like it is a chase?  Do you feel like your game is where it needs to be to get back to No. 1?  Can you just explain the differences between 1 and 2?

INBEE PARK:  I mean, I played really, really good last year earlier in the year that nobody could catch me last year, especially beginning of the year.  Stacy's playing great golf this season and, yeah, we swapped places but I feel like just my putting is off.  Everything else is, I'm playing the same game, trying to have the same mental game and same everything, but just yeah, putting means a lot so that's only thing I'm really trying to work on and trying to get to the right place.

Q.  And speaking of putting, you've been a phenomenal putter, now you're like semi‑remarkable.  So when you try to find where it was, is it more analytical?  How do you work on improving your putting?

INBEE PARK:  I was never a technical player, I was really relying on my feelings and not to get too much technical.  That's what I was trying to do.  But obviously when you're not putting as well you've got to look at everything, alignment, the rhythm, the technical part of it.  Yeah, I'm just trying to go over everything and trying to find the right stroke for me.

MODERATOR:  I asked Stacy when she was in earlier, she didn't give me any leeway of what she was going to be throwing out at the 17th hole.  Do you have a lineup of what you're going to be throwing out?  I know a lot of people just do some balls.  Do you have anything special lined up?

INBEE PARK:  I just did balls last year but I didn't really think about it this year.  If I come up with something better, then I'll probably throw something better, but if I can't think of anything else.  I mean, my ball is I think special because I have a logo on my ball, so yeah, I think people might like that.

MODERATOR:  So it's unique. 

INBEE PARK:  Yeah.  It's not just Srixon.  

MODERATOR:  It's the Inbee ball.

INBEE PARK:  Yeah.


Lydia Ko, Rolex Rankings No. 3

MODERATOR:  Well, it's my pleasure to welcome in the Rolex Rankings World No. 3 player in the world, Lydia Ko, into the interview room here at the Walmart Northwest Arkansas Championship. 

Lydia, thank you for coming in, first of all.  And coming off of a very, very exciting week at Pinehurst where you played fairly well.  Talk about that entire experience that week and how you're feeling coming into this week.

LYDIA KO:  Yeah, I mean, it was a pretty awesome week being back to back.  That doesn't happen often and it was the first time it's been done that.  I enjoyed that experience having to watch the men, and for us to kind of get back into it and concentrate and play well.  So, yeah, I really enjoyed it.  It was my best finish at a U.S. Open, so I'm pretty happy with that.

MODERATOR:  Now, even before this tournament started last week everyone said Lydia Ko won the U.S. Women's Open.  You were Instagramming, you were all over social media.  You really took in that entire experience.  What did you learn from watching the guys last week?  I know a lot of people were taking notes.  What did you learn the most?

LYDIA KO:  I kind of tried to see like where to go and where not to go.  Obviously it's harder because the men hit it much further than we do, but I guess the tees that made up for it.  I tried to see how the greens were going.  They were fast on Monday and Monday normally we would expect them to be quite good pace and kind of get faster, but it was fast all the way.  I was just enjoying the moment of being able to watch the PGA TOUR.

MODERATOR:  Now, you played here last year as a nonmember, tied for fourth, great finish, a really good week from you.  What do you remember about this course, how does it suit your game and what are you looking forward to most this week?

LYDIA KO:  I remember it being pretty hot.  I heard that the year before was really hot, so luckily I was kind of out of that one.  This week there's been some rain, so the course is playing I guess a little less firm than it was.  But I really enjoyed it.  It's a pretty golf course.  There are lots of birdie opportunities and some holes where par is a good score.

Q.  Now we're just almost approaching halfway through the LPGA season in your rookie year.  One, can you believe it, has it gone so fast, and two, give yourself a grade so far this year.  You've had a win, you've had four more Top 10s.  Talk about your year and how you grade yourself.

LYDIA KO:  It's gone way too fast.  My first one was Bahamas and that seems like so long ago and it's really been five months.  Maybe during the week it may feel slow as the week goes on but now it's already June and nearly the end of June.  It's been a pretty awesome year.  I've had a win already in San Francisco and that came faster than what I expected.  So yeah, I'm really happy with how things are going.

MODERATOR:  Give us a grade, B plus, A, A minus.  C'mon.

LYDIA KO:  I'm not good with grades.

MODERATOR:  We'll open it up for questions for Lydia.

Q.  Lydia, I know you kind of followed the same path or you are following the same path as someone like Michelle, a teen prodigy out here right in the middle of everything.  What does her win last week at Pinehurst mean to you?  Does it show you, hey, I've got the same pedigree she does?  What kind of example is she setting right now?

LYDIA KO:  Yeah, people have been calling me things that she was called when she was, I guess a couple years ago and she's playing some awesome golf.  She has the last year or so.  I mean, people kind of, I think, had doubts maybe of Michelle, but she's proven herself that she's a major winner.  It kind of gives me more hope that I can become a player like her, a player as successful and as good as her.

Q.  Lydia, coming off a major tournament, sometimes a golfer likes taking some time off or the tour takes a week or two off.  You are going right back into it.  Do you as a golfer like going right from a major tournament right to the next tournament, do you prefer that?

LYDIA KO:  I don't really mind.  This is actually one of my favorite tournaments I played last year, so I'm super excited to come back.  I think playing pretty good golf last week definitely helps to make the transition much easier, especially after playing the Pinehurst greens.  The greens here seem a little easier than what we were hitting into last week.

Q.  What's the biggest lesson I guess you've learned a year into it?  What's the one thing you can say you've taken away from your first kind of full year away, the biggest lesson you learned about yourself and the experience?

LYDIA KO:  I think it's just not overdoing anything.  I think playing your schedule to not be tired and golf is a sport where you can play for many, many years, so it's kind of what you're doing for the long run.  That's why I've been trying to take some tournaments off so that I can have some rest.  You know, sometimes after a (inaudible) week stretch you might be tired and that's when you might be wanting two weeks off.  We've been trying to manage the schedule, I guess, kind of help me be less tired.  It would be awesome to play all events, but then you don't want to overdo it.

MODERATOR:  Last week you had Fluff on the back.  I know that got a lot of attention, recognition.  You said, I think he may be more famous than me signing autographs out there.  What did you learn from him and having such a veteran caddie on the bag last week are, and where are you in the process of finding a permanent caddie?

LYDIA KO:  Fluff is obviously a very experienced guy and he was super nice, too.  I definitely agree, he is much more popular than me.  Everybody knows him.  He's done commercials and all that.  It was really cool to kind of have somebody who knows the course really well coming off from the men's the week before and just knows like what to say and what to do.  He was pretty awesome.  I mean, that's why I guess Jim Furyk and Fluff have been working together for a long time.

MODERATOR:  What about the past couple of weeks, your last win was in April, you've had very good finishes, having three top 15s, two in the Top 5.  How do you feel about your game and how things are coming together?

LYDIA KO:  I just need to stay patient, just I guess be confident at the same time.  And I played good here last year, so to me it's really good coming back to a course where I've played good at before.  Yeah, you know, sometimes I'm not going to play as good golf as I wanted to, but that's why you need patience so that at the end of the day hopefully you can be holding a trophy.

MODERATOR:  How much of a load is it off of your shoulders coming into a course that you've played, something like this week where you know the ins and outs just a little more, less preparation?  Does it take a little bit of pressure off of you?

LYDIA KO:  Yeah, I guess I don't need to spend as much time on the course as I would a whole new course.  I don't know many of the courses out here so I feel lucky that I have played this one.  Yeah, it's a little less pressure on me so that I don't need to push myself to kind of get all the work done before Friday.

Q.  People were excited Stacy Lewis is No. 1.  It's something that mathematically you've had a chance to get to.  Is that something you're pretty patient with or is that something you would like to nab at 17 or 18 or as soon as you can?

LYDIA KO:  Hopefully that time will come for me hopefully because that's always been one of my big dreams and big goals.  Stacy is playing pretty awesome.  She came in second last week and then Top 10 the week before.  She's playing pretty consistently good, which is I think what everybody would want to have.  And like I said, when that time comes I'll be grateful to have it, but I don't want to rush into things and just play a tournament at a time.

Q.  You mentioned that this stop last year is one of your favorite stops on tour.  Can you talk about why you were looking to coming back to Northwest Arkansas?  

LYDIA KO:  I just really like the area.  The course itself is really pretty with all the really nice houses and all that.  Yeah, I just remember having lots of fun.  I guess when you're playing good you have a lot of fun, but I just really enjoyed it.  That's why I was excited to come back.

 

 

Topics: Notes and Interviews, Ko, Lydia, Lewis, Stacy, Park, Inbee