NAPLES, Fla. – For six and a half years Stacy Lewis and her mother, Carol, drove to downtown Houston for X-rays every three months. Each time their hopes were high that this would be the appointment that Dr. Gary Brock would say she could finally take off her back brace – forever.
In Brock’s 21 years as an orthopedic surgeon, Lewis is the only female patient with scoliosis who wore a brace until age 17. The brace is effective only during growth periods, and most girls stop growing at age 14. It’s one of the many ways that Lewis is unlike any other.
“It was a happy ending, but not a happy middle,” said Brock, who made the trip from Houston to watch Lewis receive the Rolex Player of the Year award Friday night at the Ritz-Carleton in Naples, Fla. Her heartfelt 15-minute speech brought many in the house to tears.
This is the Year of Stacy Lewis.
Her story of overcoming scoliosis to become the best player on the LPGA in 2012 is one that should be celebrated by anyone with a beating heart. To hear Lewis talk about spending seven and a half years in a hard plastic brace for 18 hours a day that put red marks all over her body, it’s no wonder she chose to play sports since those were the only times she had Brock’s permission to take it off. Other patients wore a brace 20 hours per day.
“I don’t wish it on any kid, I can tell you that,” Lewis said.
To get an appreciation of how well-liked Lewis is on the LPGA, one only had to scan the room to see how many American players came out to support her last night. Beth Daniel and Meg Mallon, mentors of Lewis’, were seated to her left. Brittany Lincicome and her parents were at a neighboring table reserved for Lewis’ guests. Daniel, the last American to win the Rolex POY in 1994, presented the award to Lewis. Both she and Mallon, next year’s Solheim Cup captain, beamed with pride all night long.
Lewis even gave a nod to two-time Player of the Year and World No. 1 Yani Tseng, the very person she’s trying hard to chase down. Two weeks ago in Japan, Tseng and Lewis were paired together on Sunday. Lewis birdied Nos. 16 and 17 and as they walked to the 18th tee, Tseng said “One more. You got this, one more.”
“One more was what I needed,” said Lewis, who took a huge step toward locking up the year’s biggest award with her Mizuno Classic triumph.
Heading into this week’s season-ending CME Group Titleholders, Lewis led the tour in birdies, eagles, rounds in the 60s and U.S. Solheim Cup points. She’s second on the tour in greens in regulation and .06 behind Inbee Park in the Vare Trophy race for low scoring average. Lewis would need to beat Park by eight strokes on Sunday to win the Vare Trophy, but could need only a seven-shot advantage if Park shoots 74.
To win the money title, Lewis must win this week’s event to overtake Park. It’s a tall order given that she’s currently 10 strokes behind Na Yeon Choi heading into the final round.
On the way home from those endless doctors appointments when Lewis heard exactly what she feared most, Carol Lewis gave a lot of pep talks and dried a lot of tears. She always had a plan for her middle child, and giving up was not an option.
“I think the person you see on the golf course every day is my mom,” said Lewis, a tough grinder who rises to a good challenge.
Even now, Carol Lewis challenges her daughter to make sure she signs autographs, returns phone calls and slams fewer clubs. Know that Lewis is good, but not too good to take out the trash.
Earlier in the year Lewis asked her father, Dale, to take a step back. Dale, a tall, slender man who carries a folding spectator chair outside the ropes and watches each shot carefully, listened to his daughter’s request. Lewis was worried that she was taking out her work frustrations on her family. She wanted time to learn how to separate those emotions. She no longer needed Dale to be her swing coach, her agent or her caddie.
“I wanted my dad to be my dad,” she said.
Anyone who follows the LPGA closely knows that the parent-child relationships on tour play an enormous part in the level of success level. It’s a tricky equation for women, especially single women, to find a healthy balance. The Lewis family is a fine example of sacrifice, support and respect. Stacy, a naturally independent woman, is keenly aware of what’s important in life. And, she’s done an admirable of job maturing as the spotlight grew bigger.
Perhaps the most poignant moment of Lewis’ speech came near the end, when she spoke of a question players often get throughout their careers regarding their dream foursome.
“I always say I have a dream twosome,” she said, “and that’s just me and my dad.”
That’s when Dale Lewis understandbly lost it.