2nd Round of NW Arkansas – Surprise Leaders
Unless you live on Mars, you know that Michelle Wie won the Women’s US Open last week, which should be a sure sign that she won’t be anywhere near the top this week. We’re surprised that she even made the trip. She feels the exhaustion, and has mentioned it more than once.
Apparently, she’s not done with us as a group of spectators, however, as she began Friday’s first round of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship with a no-bogey 66. She may have been tired, but she wasn’t out of fireworks.
Wie is sitting second on the leaderboard, which is a nice place to be entering the second day. She is one back of the two leaders, and unless I miss my guess, few of us know much of anything about either one of them.
Unlike other weeks, the surprise leaders are not prodigies who shocked the world with their virtuosity. Likewise, they are not senior golfers making one last splash in the under par department, more than likely fading away in the following round.
These leaders are in the middle. One is Alejandra Llaneza from Mexico, born and raised in Mexico City. We shouldn’t be surprised that Lorena Ochoa has colleagues in Mexico. She isn’t the only citizen of Mexico to play the game at a professional level.
Unlike Ochoa, however, Alejandra Llaneza hasn’t won much of anything despite being on the tour since 2013, or much before that. She did finish second in the Tucson Tournament, and won the Wigwam Cactus Tour, along with some top ten appearances along the way in the major leagues. She entered the LPGA just last year, so who knows – she might be the next big thing we don’t know about yet.
Her colleague, sharing the top number, is Canadian Alena Sharp. Born in ’81 in Ontario, Alena has been on the tour since 2005, following a respectable amateur career, a World Cup appearance, a Symetra win and two Canadian Women’s Championships. So, my initial impression that Michelle Wie was following a couple of people who’ve never won anything was in error. They might offer stiffer resistance than I thought, and hang tough through the second and third days.
They have a big job ahead of them, though. They are one stroke ahead of the Women’s US Open winner, and no one on the tour is playing a hotter game of golf than Michelle Wie. She’s found herself so successfully that she wouldn’t dare think of re-losing herself. And, since she won the Open, tired or not, she can certainly enter this tournament in a state of relaxation, comparatively speaking, with nothing whatsoever to prove to anyone.
As is the case with many aspiring pros on the LPGA, Llaneza and Sharp are products, regardless of their national origin, of strong university teams in the U.S. That is no guarantee of success, but they have played competitive inter-collegiate schedules on good courses, Llaneza for the University of Arizona, and Sharp for New Mexico University.
I don’t think that’s enough, frankly. Michelle Wie, barring some surge from behind her, might be in an excellent position to take the second week as well as she did the first, without as much anxiety. Stacy Lewis might have something to say about that, but it’s got to be scary somewhere in the brain to think, “I’m in the lead – oh no, look who’s behind me.” Even in my amateurish experience, I hated that feeling, with someone experienced and good barreling up behind me. But, that’s life – let’s see what they do with it.