By Jeff Skinner
There are many interesting story lines in golf this season. Stacy Lewis has to be at the top of any list of the best stories in golf this year. Lewis is a rookie on the 2008 LPGA Tour and the tour’s Qualifying School winner. She was the top ranked amateur the past two years and won the 2007 NCAA Individual Championship. With all those credentials comes an expectation of success on the tour. These expectations may lead to some pressure but it will not bother Lewis. She has dealt with pressure many times before and always seems to flourish when times are tough.
Stacy Lewis is a walking miracle on the golf course. Stacy developed scoliosis, curvature of the spine, as a child. At eleven years old she was fitted with a back brace that she wore until she was eighteen years old. She wore the brace under her clothes to hide it and only took it off to play golf. The fact that she was even able to play golf is amazing, but to play it so well is incredible. Lewis played well enough to earn a college scholarship to the University of Arkansas and then had to deal with an ordeal that most teenagers would never face. She needed a back operation.
The brace Stacy wore for all those years did not work. When doctors examined her at eighteen they realized that the spine did not straighten enough and Stacy would need a steel rod placed in her back (View Stacy’s X-rays). So, here she was; an eighteen year old high school grad with a college scholarship awaiting her and she faces back surgery, months of rehab and no guarantee that she’ll be able to play golf as good as she had been able to.
Stacy had her operation and spent a painful eight weeks in bed. They placed a steel rod and five screws in her back to stop the curvature. Arkansas kept her scholarship waiting for her and she red-shirted her freshman year. She went through months of therapy and was limited to chipping and putting for a year.
When she arrived at Arkansas Lewis spent much of her time with then assistant coach Shauna Estes-Taylor who now is the Head Women’s Golf Coach. Estes-Taylor calls Lewis an “amazing kid” and praises her work ethic. Coach said,” Stacy definitely had a little down time when she would get a little frustrated when she couldn’t lift much weight or do a whole lot. When she got cleared to do some things like chipping and putting, she took full advantage of the year to work on her short game.”
As Stacy got healthier, she began to work hard and win golf tournaments. Stacy won twelve college tournaments and was a four time All-American while at Arkansas. Estes-Taylor says Lewis has a strong iron and short game but her real strength is the way she works herself around the course. Coach goes on, “ Her course management is superior…she knows when to execute the right shot at the right time to give her the best opportunity…a big part of the game is to know what kind of shot to hit at the right place to eliminate the big number.”
Coach Estes-Taylor says that Lewis really matured at Arkansas. “She is definitely more reserved or a bit on the shy side when you first meet her, but once you get to know her she is very outgoing. She was a tremendous leader. She led by example and when needed she was a vocal leader. She has really grown into a very well-rounded young lady.”
Lewis’s great play continued through her senior year and she was named to the Curtis Cup team. She played flawlessly for the United States team at St. Andrews going undefeated in five matches, the first time ever in Curtis Cup history. She has already won an LPGA tournament along the way. Lewis won the NW Arkansas Championship as an amateur but the win was declared unofficial because they were unable to play the required 36 holes due to weather.
Lewis played some on the LPGA last year and had a third place finish in the U.S. Women’s Open. The LPGA does not count U.S Open winnings towards the LPGA money list. If they did, Stacy would not have needed to go to Q-School. She would have earned her tour card with last year’s winnings. Stacy did not let that annoy her; she went to Q- School and won it. Coach Estes-Taylor caddied for her at Q-School and said,” I was so proud to be there to share this moment in her life. I have spent so much time with her over the past five years, the highs and the lows, and to see her birdie her final two holes to win Q-School was one of the best moments thus far in my golfing career.”
Stacy Lewis and her support team start the season this week at the LPGA’s SBS Open at Turtle Bay in Hawaii (check our course review). She starts a new career and a new season with much optimism and anticipation. Links Life Golf was able to ask Stacy about her life and the new challenges ahead.
Links Life Golf: What are your goals for 2009?
Stacy Lewis: My main goal is to make the Solheim Cup Team. I also want to win tournaments and just be in contention to win.
LLG: If the LPGA had counted your US Open winnings you would have earned a tour card and avoided Q-School. Do you feel that you should have been awarded a card?
Stacy: No, just because it’s the way the rules are set. I would not want the rule to be changed in the middle of the season just for me. It would have been nice to not have to go to Q-school but it definitely made me a better player in the long run.
LLG: Your Website is called “stacysback.com”. Was that your idea?
Stacy: No my agents came up with it, but I like it and think it’s pretty appropriate for me.
LLG: With all you have been through with your back, did you ever think you would not play golf again?
Stacy: Definitely, when I found out I had to have surgery I thought I was done playing golf forever. And then even after the surgery with all the pain I was in, I thought there was no way I would play again. But I had great doctors and a very supportive family that would not let me give up on golf.
LLG: You certainly have been through an ordeal. Do you think that it helped you and made you more determined?
Stacy: It did, it really put things in perspective. I’ve always been determined and very competitive. At times maybe too competitive, so the surgery just made me realize how lucky I am to just be able to play golf.
LLG: Tour life for a rookie could be overwhelming. Does the LPGA help the rookies get oriented to tour life?
Stacy: We had a 2 day orientation after Q-school. They went over most of the rules and answered questions we had. We also throughout the year have to do “Rookie Hours” which is just various activities for us to learn about life on tour and how a tour event is put on and managed.
LLG: How many tournaments do you plan to play?
Stacy: I don’t really want to set a number but I want to play as much as possible. The first half of the year I will play in every event to try to earn points for the Solheim Cup. The second half of the year is a little busier so I will just have to listen to my body on what I can and can’t do.
Stacy: The Curtis Cup was unbelievable. It was just so much fun to be a part of a team, playing for your country at the home of golf. I just really wanted to enjoy the experience.
LLG: What was it like winning at St. Andrews?
Stacy: St. Andrews was unlike any golf I had ever played before but I loved it. It was a perfect way to end my amateur career. We played the old course 11 times in 8 days so it was exhausting but worth it.
LLG: Where did you feel more pressure, The Curtis Cup or Q-School?
Stacy: Curtis Cup, I had never played in front of such large crowds and just being at St. Andrews I think added to the pressure. The first tee at the Curtis Cup was the most nervous I have ever been, so that made Q-school at little easier.
LLG: You have many major accomplishments in your career, NCAA Champion, Curtis Cup Champion, Q-School winner. What is your best memory over the past years?
Stacy: I have a couple; one was the last round at the national championship in 2007 when I won. I had my coach with me the whole way and it was just unbelievable. It is one of those rounds and tournaments that I will never forget. Second, would be my final hole at the Curtis Cup, clinching the cup for the U.S. Then, third would be the U.S. Open this past year. I had a blast playing in front of the huge crowds and having my dad on the bag added to the week.
We at Links Life Golf would like to thank Stacy for this interview and wish her the best for this coming season. Coach Shauna Estes-Taylor was so generous with her time we have to thank her also, and a special thanks to Jeff Chilcoat at Sterling Sports Management for making this happen. We will have more on Stacy as we follow her all season.