History repeated itself in Arkansas. In 2018, Nasa Hataoka and Minjee Lee found themselves in the final group at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship. Then just 19 years old, Hataoka won the tournament, her first LPGA Tour event, by an impressive six shots.
This year, again, Hataoka and Lee were paired together in the final group, on the final day in Arkansas. Hataoka again won, but it was a lot more stressful this time around.
The 22-year-old from Japan shot twin opening rounds of 65, each of which included a hole-in-one. By the time she reached the back nine on Sunday of the 54-hole event, however, she had cooled off. She made only one birdie on the back nine and a bogey, leaving room for others to make the most of the final few holes at Pinnacle Country Club. Danielle Kang was making a move, as was Eun-Hee Ji. But Hataoka’s biggest threat was Lee.
Lee’s birdie at the 17th hole put her within one of Hataoka heading into the reachable par-5 18th.
A good drive and second shot put Hataoka in position to two-putt for birdie. But an overly aggressive first putt ran 15 feet past the hole. She waited as Lee’s birdie putt nearly dropped. Lee settling for par meant Hataoka needed two putts for the win. Again, adrenaline took over and instead of a tap-in, she had a few feet left for the win.
Meanwhile, the third player in the final group, Eun-Hee Ji, made an unlikely birdie from the bunker behind the green on 18. If Hataoka missed her par putt, she’d be faced with a three-woman playoff. Statistically, a playoff isn’t a good option for Hataoka: she’s been in four on the LPGA Tour and lost each of them.
“It was really, really stressful,” Hataoka said of the day, “especially after the bogey.”
When her par putt dropped, Hataoka had secured her fifth LPGA Tour win, a playoff had been avoided and the stress was over.
PHOTO: Jamie Sabau