Stacy Lewis hog wild about playing in Arkansas
Stacy Lewis can't wait for her welcome home.
"The Hog Call, yes," she said.
For Lewis, the NW Arkansas Championship in Rogers, Ark., that tees off Friday is far more than another stop on the LPGA schedule. It will be an appreciation tour.
Lewis, 26, who recorded her first LPGA victory this year at the Kraft Nabisco major championship, was a four-time All-American for the nearby Arkansas Razorbacks before turning pro three years ago.
Since that door-opening win in March, Lewis has been a challenger on almost every leaderboard and will be playing for the United States against Europe in this month's Solheim Cup.
Now, a lot of fans who "knew her when" are eager to celebrate Lewis' success.
"It's kind of strange," Lewis said during pre-tournament media interviews. "I think how the Arkansas fans are. I can go anywhere in the country and people just love me because I went to Arkansas. The people here are so great. They're such great fans. I know we've got some Hog Call plans for 17 this week, so it should be fun."
The Hog Call is Arkansas' traditional "Wooo, pig, sooie" rallying cry for all things Razorbacks.
During her time at Arkansas, Lewis earned the affection. She won 12 college events for the Razorbacks on the way to four All-America selections. She was 2005 SEC Freshman of the Year and 2008 SEC Player of the Year. She was a semifinalist in the 2006 U.S. Women's Amateur.
Although Lewis recently made her home in South Florida, she remains quick to share her affection for the area.
"For me, this golf tournament is another major," she said. "I mean, it would be up there with the Kraft to win it. Just coming down 17 and 18 near the lead and having a chance to win would be awesome. I know I would have all the support behind me. It would be one of those wins that I would never forget."
After 15 events of this breakthough season, Lewis has eight top 10s, including the major title. She is third on the LPGA money list.
"Toward the end of last year I started to play pretty well and just kind of got in contention and kind of realized what it took to get to the next level," she said. "I just came out this year and played really well at the Kraft, and it just kind of motivated me to have an even better year."
In its fifth season, the NW Arkansas has attracted its strongest field, drawing the entire top 10 and 47 of the world's top 50 on the LPGA money list.
Defending champion and No. 1 Yani Tseng, who is seeking her fifth LPGA title in 2011 and eighth worldwide, headlines the field. Also playing are No. 2 Suzann Pettersen, No. 3 Cristie Kerr, No. 4 Na Yeon Choi, No. 5 Jiyai Shin, No. 6 Sun Ju Ahn, No. 7 Ai Miyazato, No. 8 I.K. Kim, No. 9 Paula Creamer and No. 10 Brittany Lincicome.
All 12 of the U.S. Solheim Cup team members, and nine of 12 European players, will be on hand.
As Tseng works on what could be a season for the history books, she insists the key to her success, compared with previous years, is simple.
"I just smile more," Tseng told reporters this week. "And I have a good attitude this year because before, maybe when I hit a bad shot, I couldn't forget that quick. But now, even when I hit a bad shot, I can return back and hit a good shot the next one, and if I tell myself to be chin up, I can do it."
Last year, Tseng shot a final-round 65 to capture a one-stroke victory over Michelle Wie.
South Korean Hee Kyung Seo is looking good in this year's Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year chase.
Seo, who has seven top-25 finishes this season, including runner-up at the U.S. Women's Open, has built a strong points lead over Americans Ryann O'Toole and Tiffany Joh.
Lincicome going the distance
Lincicome, the only American to notch two victories this year, arrives fresh from her Canadian Women's Open title two weeks ago, which lifted her to No. 10 in the world rankings.
After the victory, the long-hitter, who sings to keep herself loose on the course, returned home to Florida for a week of early morning fishing trips and a one-day stint caddying for a friend in a mini-tour event.
Lincicome's power has her atop the charts in several LPGA statistical categories, including eagles (second), birdies (fourth), scoring (seventh at 71.04) and driving distance (fourth at 265.8 yards).
Lincicome is the only player on the LPGA Tour to finish in the top three in driving distance every year for the past six years.
Successful amateur Danielle Kang will make her professional debut after receiving a sponsor exemption into the field.
Kang, 18, is coming off back-to-back victories at the U.S. Women's Amateur Championship.
She also boasts an impressive résumé on this year's LPGA Tour, having made the cut in all four majors, including finishing as low amateur at the Women's British Open.
"The only thing much different to me is that there's no star next to my name saying I'm an amateur, so that's nice," Kang said during Wednesday's pre-tournament news conference. "It's the same competition."