For Stacy Lewis, there are six majors in women’s golf – the five Grand Slam events and then this week’s Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.
Only 20 miles separate the cities of Rogers and Fayetteville, which is where Lewis spent five years (2003-08) becoming the most decorated female in program history (four-time All-American, 2007 NCAA champion, member of the school’s Hall of Fame).The pressure of playing so close to her alma mater can be overwhelming, which helps explain why she had yet to win an official event in her adopted home state.
In Razorback Country it’s called calling the Hogs – “Woo Pig Souie!” – and those chants rang louder and with more frequency Sunday as Lewis authored yet another final-round charge to steal her tour-leading third LPGA title of the season.
Four back at the start of the final round at Pinnacle Country Club,Lewis birdied three of her last four holes – including a 5-footer on the last after laying up from 214 yards – for a one-shot victory over Lydia Ko, Cristie Kerr and Angela Stanford. Lewis finished the 54-hole event at 12-under 201, on the strength of a 66-65 weekend.
Not surprisingly, Lewis’ victory was so popular among the local contingent that she had to conduct her post-round interview indoors, to shield her from the noise.
“It’s so hard to play here,” she said afterward. “It’s so much harder than people think. I was more nervous today than at the U.S. Open. That’s how much this place means to me.”
Lewis said she’s never heard roars that loud during a tournament, but she gave the partisan fans plenty of reason to cheer during a performance that was reminiscent of her victory earlier this season at the North Texas Shootout, where she broke out of a tie for the lead with a Sunday 64. When she won in a rout at the ShopRite, Lewis closed with 67.
“I don’t know what it is about these final rounds,” she said. “I just love getting in the heat of the battle on the final day and making some birdies. This was one of the coolest rounds I’ve ever played.”
Lewis has earned more than $1.88 million this season and finished outside the top 12 only once in 15 starts. Having ascended to No. 1 last month, this victory – on the heels of last week’s runner-up at the U.S. Women’s Open – will only strength her position atop the world order.
Good timing too, because the Women’s British Open is only two weeks away. The 29-year-old is the defending champion, of course, after a stirring victory last summer at St. Andrews. She’ll no doubt be one of the headliners again this year at Royal Birkdale, along with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie, the first two major winners of the season.
OK, so the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship hasn’t been elevated to major status, not yet anyway. To Lewis, a victory Sunday just felt that way.