Life has been quite busy for Stacy Lewis the past couple weeks. She’s done myriad interviews, played in pro-am events and even threw out the first pitch at a University of Arkansas (her alma mater) baseball game.
She’s also received endless e-mails – many from people she doesn’t even know telling her how much she inspires them.
That’s what happens when you win a major championship on the LPGA Tour.
Two weeks ago, Lewis, 26, captured her first major, which was also her first LPGA Tour victory, at the Kraft Nabisco Championship. Lewis went head-to-head with world No. 1 Yani Tseng in the final round and proved more than up to the task.
Lewis entered the final round trailing Tseng by two strokes but wound up winning by three with a final-round 69. Tseng stumbled to an uncharacteristic 74.
“The whole day was a lot more nerve-wracking than I thought it would be,” Lewis told 7CsGOLF.com in a phone interview Thursday. “I didn’t think I’d be walking up 18 with a three-shot lead.”
Given her recent performance, Lewis’ victory seemed a bit unlikely. She had gone 14 consecutive rounds without breaking 70, then did it three times during the KNC. Lewis said she had been hitting the ball well but simply hadn’t been scoring.
“This whole year I’ve played well,” she said. “But I was only shooting even or 1-under. I finally started making some putts and just trusting it.”
Some familiarity with Tseng may have helped also. Earlier this year, in a Ladies European Tour event in Australia, Lewis and Tseng dueled in the final round, with Tseng coming out on top.
Their competition goes back even a bit further. Last year at the Mizuno Classic in Japan, the tournament came down to Tseng, Lewis and Jiyai Shin, with Shin eventually beating Tseng by two and Lewis by three.
Those experiences, said Lewis, prepared her for the showdown at the Kraft Nabisco Championship.
“I knew what kind of game she had, and I knew I had to play well,” said Lewis. “In Japan I played with Jiyai and Yani and just to see how they manage themselves and how they manage the golf course with the pressure on … I try to learn something from everyone I play with.”
Lewis admitted that she didn’t even have her total game working during the KNC. She said she drove the ball poorly all week and used her short game to bail herself out on more than one occasion.
“I made a lot of pars that I shouldn’t have,” she said.
One of those came on No. 17. Ahead by three, Lewis faced a 20-foot par putt with a severe break. She tapped the ball then watched in amazement as it bent into the cup.
All that was left was to keep the ball in play and make the triumphant march up the 18th.
“It wasn’t until I made that par putt on 17 that I kind of finally let myself believe that I can with this,” she admitted. “And that’s the only time I let myself think about winning the whole thing.”
So began her whirlwind tour of interviews and appearances. There was one sad note, however. The first order of business once she put the finishing touches on her first major was to attend the funeral of her paternal grandfather, Al Lewis.
Al Lewis, 84, died the week of the Kraft Nabisco Championship after a long illness, and Stacy Lewis found out the day before the tournament started. His death made her victory somewhat bittersweet, but she was relieved that he was “in a better place.”
“I know I had some help when I made that putt on 17,” she said.
Making the putt on 17 also meant that Americans had won three of the last four major titles, including Cristie Kerr at the 2010 LPGA Championship and Paula Creamer at the 2010 U.S. Open at Oakmont.
Between Creamer’s victory and Lewis’, Tseng won the Women’s British Open.
With Lewis capturing the first major title of the year, it gives the USA a chance at winning all four majors in the same year for the first time since 1992. That year, the major titles went to Dottie Mochrie (Kraft), Betsy King (LPGA), Patty Sheehan (U.S. Open) and Sherri Steinhauer (British).
Much has been made about the recent dominance of foreign-born players on the LPGA Tour, particularly the Asians. And while Lewis said that she and her compatriots pull for each other and are happy to see one another win, they don’t see the dominance quite like the “outside world” does.
“At the Kraft, we have five Americans at the top (of the leaderboard),” she said. “It’s all a matter of perspective. The PGA Tour has all four majors held by (non-Americans).”
Lewis will be back on the golf course in less than two weeks at the Avnet LPGA Classic in Mobile, Ala. Though she said winning the major title hasn’t change her, she thinks it might change how she is received at an event. She’ll find out starting April 28.
There was such a big build up to her first victory, said Lewis, that there have been times over the last two weeks when she’s found herself thinking, “Now what?”
But the answer to that question turns out to be a simple one: She wants to make the Solheim Cup team and simply keep getting into contention in tournaments. Now that she has one victory, both she and LPGA Tour observers will be expecting more.
“If you keep getting into contention, you’re eventually going to have that good final round,” she said. “I put more pressure on myself than anybody is going to, but people will definitely expect me be up there playing well week in and week out.
“But I expect that of myself more than anything.”
– Chuck Curti