Razorbacks show plenty of heart - along with No. 1 ranking

Beth Ann Nichols/Golfweek

Razorbacks show plenty of heart - along with No. 1 ranking

Women

Razorbacks show plenty of heart - along with No. 1 ranking

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. – Shauna Estes-Taylor’s star Razorbacks have played inspired golf of late. Arkansas’s most famous alumna, Stacy Lewis, pledged to donate her earnings from the Cambia Portland Classic to Hurricane Harvey relief efforts in her hometown of Houston.

Incredibly, Lewis ended a three-year drought last month in Portland. Gaby Lopez was at her home in Mexico City when the 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck. She has pledged to donate all her winnings from this week’s McKayson New Zealand Women’s Open, plus $25 per birdie. Lopez is tied for 14th through three rounds.

And Maria Fassi, a senior from Mexico, helped Arkansas nab an NCAA record-setting victory at its season opener the same week her beloved grandfather died. Fassi closed with a 64 one day after her grandfather’s death. 

These Arkansas players have no shortage of heart.

“Shauna told me to just go out and play for him and make him proud,” said Fassi, as she walked to one of her massive trademark drives at the ANNIKA Intercollegiate presented by 3M. 

Arkansas enters its second event of the season No. 1 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings. The strong field includes Stanford, USC, Furman, South Carolina, Florida State, UCLA, Texas, Baylor, Georgia, Miami, and Minnesota. This marks the first time the ANNIKA Intercollegiate will be played at Olympic Hills Golf Club in Eden Prairie, Minn. The three-day event will be played Oct. 1-3 and a gala dinner will be held on Saturday evening to honor 2017 ANNIKA Award winner Leona Maguire of Duke. The award, established in 2014, recognizes the most outstanding player in women’s Division I golf as voted on by players, coaches and media.

Estes-Taylor relishes mapping out a short-game plan with her players, as she has done many times for Stacy Lewis at major championships over the years. She had plenty to take in at Olympic Hills, where large greens are packed with movement. 

“This is a second-shot golf course,” said Estes-Taylor, noting the importance of placing the ball on the correct section of the greens. All three hole locations for the week were marked for players during the practice round for advanced research.

Arkansas’ experienced lineup at the ANNIKA includes four juniors and a senior. The Razorbacks finished second last year at Reunion Resort and Fassi won the individual title. This year’s squad includes Baylor transfer Dylan Kim, who took Big 12 Freshman Player of the Year honors and defeated Maguire in a dramatic semifinal match against Duke at the 2015 NCAA Championship.

Estes-Taylor calls Kim a complete player and said she came to Fayetteville hungry to learn and be pushed by her teammates.

That fits well into Estes-Taylor’s overall vision for the program, where’s she’s preaching the “teamwork makes the dream work” mantra.

“It sounds so cliche as a coach to say that,” she said. “I think we have a lot of talent. It’s just having that talent work together rather than ‘I’m trying to beat you.’ ”

Estes-Taylor believes anyone in her starting five can win any given week. At the Mason Rudolph, where the Razorbacks finished 41-under par, three of Arkansas’ players were in contention.

Fassi knew going into the first round in Tennessee that her grandfather didn’t much time left. He had a bad heart, but doctors believed surgery was too risky. So he lived, surrounded by his seven children in Argentina, until his heart stopped working.

Estes-Taylor received a text message from Fassi’s mom before the start of the second round. 

“I didn’t know how they would respond,” said Estes-Taylor of her team. “They really rallied around (Fassi), which was really cool to see. Let’s golf for Grandpa Juan.”

Fassi said the toughest part was hearing her father cry on the phone.

“I felt like I wasn’t there for him, and that was really hard for me,” she said.

So she did what she could on the golf course to make him proud and give him something to smile about.

“I fought a lot that day,” she said.

It’s the same thing fellow Mexican, Lopez, is doing on the other side of the world in Auckland – playing for something bigger than herself.

Lopez joined the LoveArmyMexico campaign, and is raising money to help rebuild 100 houses. In her own home, paintings and lamps began to fall as the walls shook. 

“My mom and I started screaming around my house,” said Lopez. “We got out of the house and we could still see how the cars were going back and forth. I thought my house was going to fall apart. Thank God it didn’t, but if my house felt like that I can’t imagine how many humble houses and how many old buildings that suffered the same earthquake we had in 1985 actually felt.”

Lopez, who turned professional in 2015 to play in the Olympics, won three events while at Arkansas and finished runner-up to Emma Talley at the 2015 NCAA Championship. Lewis, a two-time major winner and former World No. 1, won the 2007 NCAA Championship and planned to use her winnings from Portland to rebuild houses in Houston.

“I don’t know what it’s going to be,” Lopez said, “but I’ll just play my heart out and play my best for Mexico.”

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