SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. –- Stacy Lewis still drives the same Lexus IS she bought with winnings from her first U.S. Women’s Open as a professional. That was back in 2008 at Interlachen, when Lewis quickly became the sentimental favorite playing alongside Paula Creamer in the final pairing. Lewis tied for third – her best USWO finish to date – and earned $162,487.
Life has changed dramatically for Lewis since that point, most notably her bank account, but not enough for the accounting major to stop being economical.
“I’ll probably just keep driving (my Lexus) until it needs too much work done on it,” said the very practical Lewis.
She’s the everywoman of this championship. The plain-spoken girl who could’ve sat next to you in a finance class the day after winning the SEC Championship and you’d never know it. The kind of girl who would years later donate $100,000 to her alma mater and lead the Razorback football team onto the field in honor of her generosity.
Lewis’ childhood battle with scoliosis helped shape that big heart. It also made her a tough-as-nails fighter. Here at Sebonack, the World No. 2 comes into her seventh U.S. Women’s Open confident about her ball-striking on what’s known as a second-shot course. While Inbee Park, winner of the year’s first two majors, is the clear-cut favorite, Lewis isn’t far behind.
“It feels like the last few U.S. Opens, it’s all been how straight you can drive the ball, and that is kind of who has won the tournament,” Lewis said. “So I like this year that you don’t have to drive it perfect off the tees, but you’ve got to play smart into the greens. You can take it off of ridges, you can go multiple ways to get the ball close, and I like that. I think it brings in another aspect of the game that the U.S. Opens haven’t tested in the past few years.”
Lewis almost laughs at the idea of working with a sports psychologist. She’s a more of a throwback to simpler times, when players learned from each other and took care of their own minds.
She’s also a student of the game, honing in on where other players excel.
“I love the way Ai hits wedges,” said Lewis, who told her caddie that they needed to figure out Miyazato’s technique.
She’d like to putt like Yani Tseng under pressure and hit the ball like Karrie Webb.
“It’s right there in front of you,” Lewis said. “Why not?”
At the last several Opens, Webb has invited Lewis to play practice rounds with her. On Monday, Lewis watched intently as Webb dropped a ball in Sebonack’s thick hay and worked out with her caddie how they would respond to such a situation. Lewis admires the way Webb works her way around a golf course.
From recent U.S. Open champion Justin Rose, Lewis took away the importance of remaining level. In fact, that’s her No. 1 goal for the week.
In Colorado two years ago at The Broadmoor, Lewis let a bad run in the second round take her out of the tournament.
“Everybody’s going to have a bad stretch of holes, and if I would have just been OK with it and just kind of kept trucking through it, I would have been fine,” Lewis said. “But, instead, I let it affect the rest of the tournament, and I went from tied for the lead and I think I finished 40th.”
Former World No. 1 Yani Tseng, who for a while there won majors at a mindblowing pace, knows all about the value of a strong mind.
“When I played my best, I mean, everything was thinking perfect,” Tseng said. “I’d hit on the fairway. I’d picture my shot going into the hole on the second shot. And if I miss, it’s not going to miss that much.”
Lewis can appreciate that quest for perfection.
She rose to No. 1 in March after her victory in Arizona, but fell to No. 2 in April after Park won the Kraft. The way Lewis looks at it, she didn’t lose No. 1 so much as Park took it from her.
“She came out and she bulldozed the field the last two majors,” Lewis explained.
And besides, Lewis doesn’t play this game to be ranked No. 1.
“Being in contention, being in those last few groups, feeling the nerves, that’s what I play for,” Lewis said.
“If that ever gets old for me, then I’m doing this for the wrong reasons.”