ROGERS, Ark. (AP) — Finally, a nice day for golf.
And there was hardly anyone on the course.
The LPGA NW Arkansas Championship ended Sunday, with the sun finally shining but the leader feeling a bit empty. The event was shortened from 54 holes to 18, so Stacy Lewis – the top finisher – does not get credit for an official victory.
“Going from playing my best competitive round ever to – it kind of felt like a knife in your heart,” Lewis said. “You don’t get a chance to win.”
Lewis did receive a trophy after a strange ending at Pinnacle Country Club. The final day was closed to the public while 32 players finished the first round. Lewis, an amateur who plays college golf at nearby Arkansas, finished her first round Saturday at 7-under 65.
“I beat 143 of the best players in the world on one day,” she said.
Three days, actually. That’s how long it took some to finish one round. The tournament began 4 1/2 hours late Friday, and play was suspended again around 11 a.m. Saturday.
Rain wasn’t a problem Sunday, and the sun even came out from behind the clouds – but the LPGA had already decided Saturday the event would end after one round. Lewis, the NCAA champion, isn’t considered an official winner because the tournament did not last at least 36 holes.
“From the LPGA’s standpoint, this is not a tournament,” said Doug Brecht, the LPGA’s vice president of rules and officials. “It’s extremely unfortunate, obviously, for a lot of different reasons. … It’s obviously not official, and we just don’t consider it an event at all.”
Tournament organizers cited dangerous course conditions caused by heavy rain as a reason for keeping fans away Sunday. On Saturday, the course was flooded in spots and full of large puddles. Those problems were mostly taken care of by Sunday, but the course was still quite soggy.
“We looked at it from a maintenance standpoint what we had to do to get this golf course back in a playable condition; and the forecast and how it presented itself at that time over the next two days as far as our opportunity to play 36 holes,” Brecht said. “It was agreed by all parties concerned making the decision that our chances were very limited at that time to finish 36 holes by the end of the day Monday.
“We thought, all things concerned, that the best plan of attack for us at that time was to finish 18 holes and be done with this.”
Jin Young Pak was the only player with a reasonable chance to catch Lewis. Pak, a rookie, started her first round Friday and finally finished it Sunday. She birdied No. 7 – her 16th hole – to move within one of the leader. A bogey on No. 8 dropped her back.
Kristy McPherson, Katherine Hull and Teresa Lu shot 66s Friday on the 6,238-yard course and were a stroke behind Lewis. Juli Inkster, Sherri Turner and Pak were another stroke back at 67.
Pak needed about an hour to play four holes Sunday. Around a dozen people followed her, including media members, photographers – and a woman who lives on the grounds at the course who said she’d never seen the area receive that much rain.
Lewis stood near the clubhouse, a short distance from the green at No. 9. As Pak approached on her final hole, Lewis said she hadn’t been following the South Korean’s progress. Nobody was walking with the group holding a scoreboard.
No amateur has won an LPGA Tour event since JoAnne Carner in 1969.
Brecht said some money will be awarded to players, but officials said the amounts would not be made public. If the event had lasted 36 holes, players would have received full prize money.
Eleven players in the 144-person field will also play in the Solheim Cup, which starts Friday in Sweden. Inkster said shortly after play was suspended Saturday that the Solheim players were prepared to stay until Monday to finish this tournament.
Brecht said the Solheim Cup didn’t affect the decision to shorten the Arkansas event.
“The LPGA looks at each event we have individually,” he said. “Anything to make this shortened was a direct result of what was happening here and nowhere else.”
While in the parking lot, Inkster noted that the weather turned out better than expected Sunday.
“We probably could have played today,” she said.
Inkster won the Chick-fil-A Charity Championship in 2002 when it was shortened from 54 holes to 36.
“It was like, ‘Oh, I won,”’ she remembered. “But it didn’t really feel like I won.”
This tournament, presented by John Q. Hammons, was billed as the LPGA Tour’s first visit to Arkansas since the Arkansas Open at Hot Springs in 1956.
Doug Wilbur, a caddy for one of the players who finished Sunday, said he understood why officials wouldn’t want to bring in fans for just a few holes. But with the weather improving, he wondered about the decision to shorten the event.
“I wish they would make the attempt to play, and then make the decision afterward – instead of making the decision before, anticipating rain,” he said. “I wish they’d make the effort to play 36.”