Hog Heaven: Six former Arkansas players competing in Walmart NW Arkansas Championship

Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY Sports

Hog Heaven: Six former Arkansas players competing in Walmart NW Arkansas Championship

LPGA Tour

Hog Heaven: Six former Arkansas players competing in Walmart NW Arkansas Championship

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It’s Hog Heaven on the LPGA this week as a record six former Arkansas players are competing in the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.

No one would be a bit surprised to see a Razorback hoist a trophy on Sunday either.

“I’m just really proud of it,” said Stacy Lewis, the player who put the program on the map. “To think of where we were 12 years ago, when I was the only name for probably three of those years, we didn’t have any other players coming out. To have six, it’s a big deal for the girls on the team, it’s for the girls that are coming up that are committing to play here.”

Here’s a closer look at the six who can’t wait to “Call the Hogs” on the par-3 17th at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers, Ark., dubbed the loudest hole on tour.

Kaylee Benton makes her professional debut this week

Kaylee Benton of Arkansas chips during the final round of the 2017 Annika Intercollegiate. Photo: Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY Sports

She’s competing on a sponsor exemption that’s offered to the top-ranked player on the Arkansas roster. With Maria Fassi already in the field by virtue of an exemption for winning the NCAA championship, Benton was next in line. She’ll have head coach Shauna Estes-Taylor on the bag. The steady and reliable Benton hit a 9-iron 110 yards when she transferred into the program from UNLV. She now hits 9-iron 135 yards. Estes-Taylor calls it “golf strong.”

Dylan Kim Monday-qualified for the event

She’s playing as an amateur and will have her mom on the bag. Kim plans to compete in LPGA qualifying later this year and is staying on in Fayetteville for now. Estes-Taylor said Kim loves structure, and she plans to continue to help the new graduate design her practice schedule at the Blessings as she prepares for the next level. “Fundamentally she’s very sound,” said Estes-Taylor. “It’s just managing the expectations she has for herself. You don’t have to play perfect to do great things out there.”

Alana Uriell is a rookie on the LPGA

Alana Uriell (Photo: @RazorbackWGolf)

She finished T-20 at Q-Series to earn her LPGA card and won her in her professional debut at the Symetra Tour’s season-opening SKYiGolf Championship in March. Estes-Taylor had dinner with Uriell this week in Arkansas and said she’s looking more comfortable than she did a month ago. Still finding her footing on the LPGA.

Gaby Lopez won her first LPGA title last fall in China

She aced the 17th hole there on her 25th birthday. What a reaction she’d get at Pinnacle if she did the same on No. 17 this week. Lopez competed in the Walmart NW Arkansas event from 2013-15 as a non-member and makes her seventh appearance in the tournament. The Mexico City native has four top 10s this season. Stacy Lewis says Lopez is playing some of the best golf of her career right now and points to her being more comfortable both inside and outside the ropes as a reason why.

Maria Fassi is a rookie sensation on the LPGA

The Augusta National Women’s Amateur star and 2019 NCAA champ fascinates with her powerful game and magnetic personality. Fassi certainly has had plenty of distractions coming her way but has done an admirable job of balancing the chaos. “It’s like a fairy-tale story, honestly,” she said. This is Fassi’s third appearance in this event. She missed the cut in her previous two starts in Arkansas. Her best finish thus far as a pro came in her debut, when she tied for 12th at the U.S. Women’s Open. She has cashed a check in all three starts as an LPGA rookie and ranks 66th on the money list.

Stacy Lewis won the inaugural Arkansas event while still an amateur

The 2007 victory was deemed unofficial, however, as the tournament was reduced to 18 holes due to rain delays. She did win it officially in 2014 and has three top-five finishes. Lewis has not only inspired the players that followed her at Arkansas, but has helped them too, playing practice rounds this week with Benton and Kim. Still as hungry as ever to win, it’s understandably taking time for Lewis to adjust to life on the road with baby Chesnee. Estes-Taylor said it’s like being a rookie all over again for the former World No. 1. Lewis knows this won’t be a popular admission, but she’s actually struggling to put on weight, and therefore low on energy. Some things you can’t plan for.

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