by Jeff Skinner
The LPGA returns to Arkansas this week at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship and the top American golfer is feeling right at home. World number two, Stacy Lewis is an University of Arkansas alum and knows this is truly a home game for her.
Lewis was an All-American at Arkansas and still has strong ties to the school and the area. She looks at this tournament as just a step below a major for her and would really love to win in her “hometown.”
“It is hometown for me. It really feels like home. And I’ve said it before, nobody else on tour has this. I mean, I don’t think we have any other stop where you get so many people just pulling for one person, and it’s really cool for me. I know all the players kind of joke about it that they always know where I am on the golf course and they always know when I get to 17 and 18. So it’s just a really cool week to show off Arkansas to the world.”
Lewis may feel some internal pressure to win this week and from the look of the World Rankings she may have the hopes of the entire country on her surgically repaired back. She is the only American in the top ten of the Rolex World Rankings.
Lewis who has overcome scoliosis, came onto the LPGA as a young, shy girl who would rather practice chip shots than face a camera or a microphone. But in the past years she has grown comfortable with the spotlight and realizes how the tour needs her and stories like hers.
Lewis is profiled by Guy Yocom in a must read piece in July’s Golf Digest and it is pure Stacy Lewis, open, honest and strangely informative on a range of subjects. She hated her back brace, grew a rib back, says the ball is the big problem, hates slow play and caddies lining up their players and doesn’t know how long she’ll be able to play.
I WORE A BACK BRACE for 6 years. Hard plastic, three straps. It would dig into my side. During the summers I’d get rashes and red marks. My mom was a registered nurse and the enforcer. She’d catch me not wearing it and say, “Put your back brace on, Stacy.” I’d yell at her and try to argue my way out of wearing it. She’d listen patiently and nod, then she’d say, “Put on the brace.” There was no getting out of it. I love her for that.
WHEN I PLAYED GOLF, I got to take the brace off. I’d go to the course, take the brace off and play, then put it back on in the parking lot. Wearing the brace–or rather, being permitted to get out of it for six hours a day–was why I gravitated to golf and spent so much time at the course. If I’d had a healthy back, you might not have heard of Stacy Lewis.
DID YOU KNOW that if you get a rib removed, it will grow back? They took out one of my ribs, liquefied it, and injected it into the spaces created between my vertebrae when they straightened my spine. They said, “Don’t worry about your missing rib; it’ll grow back.” And it did.
I’M ONLY 28, but I remember a time when I could shape shots. Now, the ball will start to draw, and then it stops drawing. The balls are almost self-correcting. And they fly a mile, even for people like me. I went to the Masters, and the distances the guys hit the ball were sick. Forget anchoring. The ball is a much bigger issue.
THE PACE OF PLAY on the LPGA Tour remains terrible. In the Sybase Match Play Championship last year, the pace was so bad in one of my matches that I asked tournament officials to put us on the clock. When a player is asking for her group to be timed, you know there’s a problem. Slow play is just killing golf.
THE MOST HORRIBLE thing of all is caddies lining players up. Women tour players do it more than the men, so it gives us a bad name. It seems to be getting worse. How can lining yourself up not be a basic challenge of the game? I pride myself on my alignment. I worked hard at it.
BECAUSE OF MY BACK, I don’t know how big a playing window I have left. The doctors don’t know, either. We’re in uncharted territory. [PGA Tour player] Ken Duke has rods in his back, but he’s the only other tour player. The feeling is, I’m going to get after it while I can. You never know what tomorrow will bring.
Let’s hope that her back will allow her to play as long as she likes.