Posted by: Mike Cornelius | August 16, 2020

With Perseverance And Putts, Stacy Lewis Wins Again

It is a question as old as our games, one pertinent to all of them. How does one measure heart? Even the casual fans of a given sport usually recognize talent and are properly awed by raw ability when it manifests itself before them. As for luck, that laughing specter that renders prodigious talent meaningless with little more than a sideways glance, one need not be a fan at all or even grasp the intricacies of a particular contest to see when luck chooses to either smile or frown upon an athlete. But heart is at the essence of our being, and so is often hidden. We guess, we hope, that at their core our heroes have the character and disposition to rise to an occasion, but until the moment arrives, we can never know for sure. But when the challenge is met by equal measures of focus and will that enhance rather than merely complement ability, an athlete’s heart leads the way to glory.

At the age of 35, Stacy Lewis has known the acclaim that is showered upon those with great talent. She finished first at an LPGA tournament while still an amateur in 2007. That unusual phrasing is intentional, because that year’s NW Arkansas Championship was cut short by torrential rains, so Lewis’s position atop the leader board was not considered an official win by the women’s Tour. But plenty of other victories followed once she turned pro, beginning with a major, the 2011 Kraft Nabisco Championship, which Lewis won by outpacing then world number one Yani Tseng by three strokes. Two years and several wins later, she added a second major with a two-shot triumph at the Women’s British Open, played that year over the Old Course at St. Andrews.

By then Lewis had claimed the top world ranking herself, a position she would hold twice for a total of twenty-five weeks. More than half a decade later, she remains the most recent American woman golfer to be ranked number one. The following season she captured all three season-long titles on the women’s tour – winning 2014 Player of the Year honors, topping the LPGA’s money list, and taking home the Vare Trophy for best scoring average.

But after a victory in June 2014 – official this time – at the same event in Arkansas where she had her rain-shortened coming out party seven years earlier, the winning stopped. There was no dramatic change in Lewis’s game. In 2015 she posted fourteen top tens including six second place finishes, and ended the year ranked third in the world. But little by little, her scoring average crept up, her world ranking slid down, and fans of the LPGA began to turn their attention elsewhere.

At least until the late summer of 2017, when Lewis first displayed the strength of will that drives her. A resident of Houston since childhood, Lewis almost skipped the Tour’s Cambia Portland Classic to fly home from the Pacific Northwest and help her city deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Instead she stayed an announced that all here winning would be signed over to the relief effort. Then she proceeded to make sure that her donation was as large as it could possibly be by winning for the first time in more than three years.

Still by the time the LPGA ventured across the Atlantic this week for the first of back-to-back stops in Scotland, for the Ladies Scottish Open at the Renaissance Club in North Berwick followed by the Women’s British Open at Royal Troon, Lewis wasn’t one of the headliners. The Scottish Open marked the first LPGA appearances since the Tour’s recent restart for the Jutanugarn sisters Ariya and Moriya, Australian star Hannah Green, and 2018 Women’s Open champion and British favorite Georgia Hall. Lewis wasn’t even the most talked about American walking the Renaissance Club’s fairways. That honor surely went to Danielle Kang, who arrived in Scotland fresh off back-to-back wins at the Tour’s last two stops.

But Lewis’s Open win at St. Andrews was no fluke. She readily proclaims her love of links golf, and even says that Scotland’s unpredictable weather and often cool temperatures help to keep her swing more compact. She also arrived in Scotland believing that the pandemic-related layoff had allowed her to finally and fully recover from both her 2018 pregnancy and birth of her first child, and a rib injury that took her out of last fall’s Solheim Cup and continued to nag her earlier this season.

After opening with an even par 71, Lewis lit up the course on Friday, firing a 5-under par 66 that vaulted her into the lead. A one under 70 in the third round put her into Sunday’s final grouping, along with 54-hole leader Azahara Munoz and Cheyenne Knight. Starting off one behind Munoz, Lewis seized the lead with a pair of early birdies on the 2nd and 3rd holes. But the challenges on this day weren’t limited to the golf course and the chilly breeze. Always a fast player, Lewis was paired with two of the LPGA’s tortoises, and her group quickly fell out of position. After they were placed on the clock at the turn, Lewis stumbled to a double-bogey 6 at the 11th hole. But she calmed herself by singing – to herself – a Taylor Swift song that is a favorite of her 2-year-old daughter. Perhaps not something taught by many golf instructors, but it allowed Lewis to play even par golf down the stretch, which left her in a four-way tie with her playing partners and Emily Kristine Pedersen of Denmark.

Though she was 0-3 for her career in playoffs, it was Lewis who stood on the 18th green, the first hole of sudden death, staring at a 24-foot putt for birdie and victory. Surely there was more than a pop tune running through her mind as she contemplated winning after almost three years, and for the first time as a mother. Perhaps she thought about all her previous LPGA wins, or the two majors, or the top world ranking she once held. Maybe it occurred to her that having overcome major back surgery as a teenager, it was remarkable that she was playing golf at all. The moment had arrived, and Stacy Lewis showed fans the depth of her determination and the power of her will. The putt rolled across the green, curled to the right, and fell into the heart of the cup.

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