by Jeff Skinner
Stacy Lewis can finally relax. With her first win at the Kraft Nabisco Championship the 26 year old achieved two of her goals: winning on the LPGA and claiming a major championship. She can sit back and take a breath and take it all in, she’s earned it. It hasn’t been an easy road for the girl from Woodlands Texas.
Her unimposing manner hides the inner determination of a pit bull and now literally, the heart of a champion. This is a professional golfer that almost lost the ability to play golf due to scoliosis as a child. Stacey’s dream was to play professional golf but with her condition that seemed impossible. She was turned on to golf by her dad just like he was by his father. She endured years of wearing a brace and then on the verge of going off to college to play golf she was forced to have surgery to repair her curved spine. She carries the scars of that surgery along with the steel rod and screws that hold her spine straight. That operation did more than repair her spine; it gave her a will, an inner strength that she would use the rest of her life.
Lewis has a reputation as a tough competitor and the resume to prove it. She won as an amateur, at Arkansas was a much decorated All-American and anchored her winning Curtis Cup team. But she has overcome plenty of adversity to get where she is today.
Following the surgery she went through a long, painful rehabilitation. She spent a year just trying to build up her strength to play again. Her coach at Arkansas, Shauna Estes-Taylor, worked with her daily to get her back into form and she thrived there. Her transition to the LPGA wasn’t easy at times. She was young and travelling the world to play wherever she could and sometimes felt alone. When she didn’t win quickly there was some frustration but that only made her more determined to play better. This past offseason she spent time with a new coach and the changes have paid off tremendously.
Lewis is the first to say she hasn’t done this alone. This championship is the result of the work and efforts of many people. Her parents took the leap into Poppy’s Pond with her and it was well deserved. They have given Stacy the chance to grow into the person she is: the girl that spends hours in hospitals and doing charitable work. She reaches out to children with scoliosis and helps them see that you can achieve your dreams. This is the girl that took her mother to Africa last December for some mission work. Lewis never says no to any charity, she knows how lucky she is.
The University of Arkansas held her scholarship for her while she spent a year recovering from surgery. They could have rescinded it but they wanted her on their team. Coach Este-Taylor made Lewis her pet project and was essential in her coming back into form. The two are still very close and Stacy is a “volunteer assistant” for the Razorback women’s golf team.
Her coach, Joe Hallett, has taken Lewis’ game to a new level. They worked on closing “the power leaks” in her swing and she has gained 20 yards with her driver. That enabled her to play right alongside long hitting Yani Tseng rather than two clubs behind her.
Lewis is now comfortable on the tour. Having made many friends on the LPGA has allowed her to feel a bit more at home and relaxed during the grind of travel and hotels. She is well liked on tour and her friends doused her with beer on the eighteenth green.
Her caddy was able to calm her and keep her in the moment on Sunday as the pressure of winning a major closed in and threatened to break down that new and improved swing. He told her she can do this and to enjoy the moment.
You can’t help but think the memory of her deceased grandfather had an effect on Lewis this week. He passed away right before the start of the tournament and the family knew that he would want Stacy to play so they delayed the funeral. She used the emotional push to her advantage.
As with any champion there is usually a great support team that helps them achieve their goals. Stacy is no different. Her team deserves credit but it was Stacy that stared down the number one player in the world. It was Stacy that hit the shots and sank the putts. It was Stacy that had to control her emotions that caused her to “feel like I was going to throw up all day.” She did it, she beat the best on the biggest of stages. Dreams do come true. That is what her victory is all about: facing obstacles and overcoming them.
This week will be bittersweet for the Lewis family. They have to bury their patriarch while trying to enjoy Stacy’s victory. They’ll get through it. They’ve been through so much already.