Canada’s Alena Sharp (pictured by Getty Images) shot a 6-under 65 on Friday to take the first-round lead at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship Presented by P&G. U.S. Women’s Open champion Michelle Wie and Alejandra Llaneza of Mexico trail the lead by one shot. Sharp’ s round of 65 ties her low round of the year and leads after the first round for the first time in her career. She described her round which included seven birdies and one bogey as ‘simple and relaxed.’
“Yeah, hit a lot of greens today, I only missed four greens,” said Sharp. “Drove it well, wasn’t really in the rough at all so I got to lift, clean and place so got a perfect lie almost every time. Really didn’t hit outside of 20 feet much, made a lot of putts. It was really simple. It was fun to just play and not be stressed and just relax and enjoy the day.”
Sharp has made five previous appearances at the event and previous best finish was a T54 in 2009. She said being familiar with the track at Pinnacle Country Club made her work around the greens on Friday easier.
“And the greens are so perfect,” said Sharp. “I mean, they’re rolling so smooth, it’s almost like no one’s played on the greens at all. There’s hardly any divots on them.
I think knowing the breaks helps, yeah. And then I got the speed down right away which was perfect. It’s hard to get the judge of the speed this week with all the rain that we’ve had, but it’s in great shape for all the rain that’s fallen here this week.”
Rogers received nearly two inches of rain over the past five days, but Sharp said her length off the tee helped her with the soft conditions. Sharp is ranked seventh on Tour in average driving distance with an 268.6 yard average.
“Well, I drive it fairly far so I knew it was a little bit of an advantage carrying it further than some of the other girls,” said Sharp. “But it wasn’t playing as long as I thought it would because the wind is not easy either.”
Wie, who arrived in Arkansas on Wednesday afternoon from a media tour in New York City following her first major championship win, said she started running out of gas on the back nine but was glad to be back playing again.
“Definitely running on fumes right now but I’m excited to be here in Arkansas,” said Wie. “The crowds are amazing. Just feels great to play golf again.”
Wie has missed the cut at this event the past three years but had a runner-up finish in 2010. She had a bogey-free round with five birdies and said she was grateful for the weather holding up yesterday to allow her to get in a full 18 holes in before Friday.
“I think, you know, I got lucky to play 18 holes yesterday in the pro‑am,” said Wie. “The weather definitely held up, which is nice.”
Wie said the positive momentum from Pinehurst definitely carried over into this week but has high concern for logging more hours of sleep.
“It definitely gave me confidence to play today,” said Wie. “But definitely it would have been harder if I had a morning tee time today. I was really happy about this late afternoon tee time. Glad to sleep in, got my 12 hours of sleep, and hopefully I’ll get to bed in about an hour and a half now.”
University of Arkansas alum and world No. 1 Stacy Lewis shot a 1-under 70 and is in a tie for 43rd and five shots off the lead. Defending champ and world No. 2 Inbee Park was one shot better with a 69 and is T25 after 18 holes.
CAREER LOW ROUND
Mexico native Alejandro Llaneza finished the first round of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship Presented by P&G T-2 headed into the weekend after shooting a 5-under 66. The 66 was the low round of her career, previous best was a final round 67 (-4) at the 2014 Manulife Financial LPGA Classic.
“It was a good round, very consistent.” Llaneza said. “I was warming up on the range, didn’t feel great, so I send my coach a quick text and she gave me just a feeling to play with and it seemed to work. I just stayed patient all day. Since we had lift, clean and place and the course was a little wet, it was easy to go at pins and just be aggressive, and luckily I was able to stay aggressive all day.”
She has made the cut in five of seven tournaments played this season, including a 12th place finish is Kingsmill. As far as things she has been working on, she says it’s all strategy.
“Just being more aggressive when I can, taking advantage of as many opportunities as possible.” Llaneza said. “And especially I think it’s come down to trusting my putting stroke and the line and the speed that I feel at that moment.”
REST & TUNE UP
Alena Sharp conquered her struggles with the flatstick in the first round on Friday and has been searching for an improvement with her putting. She ranks 137th on Tour in putting average (31.34) and knows it’s the part of her game that has been holding her back. She had just 27 putts in her round on Friday and said after a quick putting lesson at home in her off week, things started clicking.
“Yeah, I’ve been playing well for the last couple months, I just haven’t putted well and I’ve just been working on it a lot the last couple weeks,” said Sharp. “Got a putting lesson from my old coach Jeff Moore up in Canada after the Waterloo event and been working on it for two weeks straight now and it’s starting to pay off. I’m trusting it more and just trying to relax. It’s been a part of my game that hasn’t been the greatest this year. I’ve hit a lot of greens and not making a lot of birdies, so today was definitely a step in the right direction.”
Sharp’s last LPGA event was three weeks ago at the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic in her home country of Canada and used the two-week gap afterward for a combination of rest but also some tune up.
“My sister had a baby a couple months ago, so I just hung out at home and took some time off,” said Sharp. “And then last week I played the Symetra Tour actually just to keep playing, so I think that was good, I think momentum from that last weekend.”
Sharp tied for 19th at the Four Winds Invitational in South Bend, Ind. last week. Her only other start on the Road to the LPGA this season was the season-opener in February which she won.
“The last two days out there I putted much better than I have been and started hitting the ball really well,” said Sharp. “Worked on stuff for the British, like punch shots, like three‑quarter shots because those have been not the greatest for me. I did that a lot today, which helped with the wind.”
COMFORTING WORDS FROM NO. 1
After her first round today, World No. 1 Stacy Lewis took some time to meet with a young fan from Springdale, Arkansas who has a big challenge in front of her. Brenna Dobson met with Lewis for nearly 10 minutes to talk about her upcoming scoliosis surgery in either August or November.
The 12-year old was able to ask questions from Lewis, who had scoliosis surgery when she was 18 years old. Her questions ranged from specifics about the surgery, if she will still be able to do yoga and if it hurts to sit during a car ride. Lewis explained in detail what to expect and even showed her how flexible she is still.
Lewis is a proven champion on the course, but an even better role model for young girls off the course.
Rolex Ranking No. 12 Paula Creamer withdrew from the tournament today due to a thumb injury – she was replaced by Kris Tamulis…Natalie Gulbis also withdrew with a hip injury and there was no alternate available to take her spot.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“I think it’s definitely struck me on the back nine a little bit tired, but I just was really excited to get out here and start playing again. New York was fun, but it’s just fun to get back to playing golf.”
-Michelle Wie on getting back to competition after a two-day media tour in New York City
THE SOCIAL SCENE
When you’re the U.S. Women’s Open champion, the fun never seems to stop. Michelle Wie appeared for a fun segment on LIVE! With Kelly and Micheal this morning at 9am (ET). Michelle Wie took to Instagram to show the great rapport she had with host Michael Strahan on the show.