ROGERS — For the group of girls from First Tee, the speaker fit to a T what they needed to hear, prior to the start of last week’s LPGA’s Wal-Mart Northwest Arkansas Championship.
Several girls from the First Tee golf program were among the observers at a media session involving Gaby Lopez, the second year professional from Mexico and former Arkansas Razorbacks two-time All-American and 2015 NCAA Women’s Tournament runner-up.
Lopez smiled like she was gazing into a mirrored time machine which in essence she said she was.
“I love looking at your faces because it’s like I was once that little girl,” Lopez said. “I loved professional golf when I was a little kid and I used to run around the course to watch Lorena Ochoa, (the former LPGA great from Mexico) and to watch Juli Inkster ( a 7-time majors champion in her 34th LPGA season) to watch so many players. I was very, very inspired. They inspired me and now you inspire me and I feel even more blessed to be here today. I am an open book if you have any questions.”
How do you deal with success and failure?
“There are bumps all over the place,” Lopez said. “Ups and downs all the time. Everything in life is temporary. Nothing lasts forever. Good times you are going to go through and bad times you are going to go through. So whenever you have a storm you have to be calm in the middle of the storm. Because it’s really easy to be calm when everything is pink and happy, but when we go through tough times we have to learn to be cool and calm. Because we know those tough times are not going to last forever.”
What about your expectations for this tournament?
“I try not to expect anything other than to do my best,” Lopez replied. “The rest I can’t control.”
Lopez credits her religious faith and her parents for keeping her grounded whether her drives land in the middle of the fairway or out of bounds.
During her UA days, Lopez said her parents wanted to know more how she was doing in her studies than faring on the golf course.
“They told me when I was a student-athlete, ‘You are a student first and an athlete second,” Lopez said. “They always told me education was first. That’s why I graduated from the University of Arkansas last year and accomplished that great. Because golf you never know what’s going to happen. If something happens on the road, if a bump comes up, that education is something that nobody can take from you. Education and going to college is going to make you more mature and independent and you are going to grow in so many ways that you wouldn’t if you didn’t go to college.”
So far Lopez’s LPGA road has been far more smooth than bumpy.
She was third on the 2016 tour’s rookie rankings and at 102nd overall the top-ranked player in Mexico and represented Mexico at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Arkansas owes Mexico for the budding talent that Arkansas Coach Shauna Estes-Taylor recruited but Mexico owes Arkansas for the golfer that Lopez has become.
“Playing as an amateur gave me the opportunity to be world ranked and to play Rio,” Lopez said. “So in 2016 I got enough ranking points to represent my country at the Olympic Games. That opportunity of playing the US. Open as an amateur, if it wasn’t for that I wouldn’t have played the Olympics last year. It was the best experience of my life and hopefully I can build on that. I owe Arkansas so much. It’s a great feeling to be here and represent the Razorbacks again.”
It’s the best of worlds coming back to “my second home,” Lopez said.
“Mexico and Arkansas hold a very, very special place in my heart,” Lopez said. “Being able to represent Mexico and the University of Arkansas is such a blessing. For me it’s such an honor to be with the people that I love and the community that has supported me the last five years.”
Her Arkansas coaches, Estes-Taylor and assistant Mike Adams, remain in Lopez’s corner.
“I keep in touch with them,” Lopez said. “They have become a big part of my success in life. Shauna and Mike have been very attentive and always with me all the time. I thank them for the opportunity to be here.”
Wal-Mart NWA Championship results
ROGERS — Though out of contention for winning the Wal-Mart Northwest Arkansas Championship she won once as a Lady Razorback in 2007 and for her last LPGA victory in 2014, Stacy Lewis made the most of her second to last shot in Sunday’s final round.
Her superb approach shot helped by a backwards roll left a short birdie putt on 18 and a tied for fourth 13-under par finish with Michelle Wie for the tournament won by So Yeon Ryu of South Korea finishing the 3-day tournament at 16-under par.
Amy Yang finished second at 14 under par.
“The shot on 18 was really cool,” Lewis said. “I thought I pulled it a little bit too much but it got a nice little kick off the bunker and I knew the backstop was there. It would have been cool if it went in but it was just a nice way to finish and finish off a good hole.”
Lewis began Sunday in second place at 11-under, five behind Ryu.
Her longshot at catching up totally evaporated on Sunday’s 11th and 13th holes.
“ Eleven was just a bad swing and made a bogey,” Lewis said. “And 13 play left to go out of the rough and it goes right. It’s just part of the game. I thought I did a pretty good job of sticking to my game plan. I was just a few putts here and there from giving it a run and making 18 matter a little more.
If that tee ball stays a title bit shorter in the fairway it’s a different story. But it’s part of the game that shows the game is not far off. It’s right there. It’s so close. I’m excited.”
The Women’s PGA looms this week.
“ We’ve got majors coming up and I am excited where my game is now,” Lewis said.
Lewis said coming back to Arkansas remains as fun as ever.
“As tired as I am this week it’s so much fun,” Lewis said. “There’s no place like this on tour and the way the fans support us and come here to watch the golf. The fans were unbelievable for me and also So Yeon, they were cheering her on as well. I just love this week. I wish we could have four of these a year.”
Lewis played Sunday’s round with Ryu who shot a tournament record 61 Saturday.
“So Yeon has played great for a year now so I am not surprised,” Lewis said. “She did exactly what she needed to do today. She made some good par putts, especially there on the backside. She played really good.”
Former Razorback Gaby Lopez completed the tournament tied for 10th at 10 under par.