Stacy Lewis earns emotional win for Houston: 'I knew what it meant'

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Stacy Lewis earns emotional win for Houston: 'I knew what it meant'

LPGA Tour

Stacy Lewis earns emotional win for Houston: 'I knew what it meant'

There were so many close calls over the years for Stacy Lewis, so many moments when victory seemed well within her grasp. Twelve runner-up finishes in 83 starts over the course of three years, to be exact. All those heartaches, those head-scratching misses and fast-walking bee-lines to the range (with steam coming from both ears) led to this beautifully serendipitous moment.

Stacy Lewis won for Houston.

The now 12-time winner played for a cause bigger than herself, pledging early in the week to donate all her winnings to Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. Lewis’ first-place check at the Cambia Portland Classic meant $195,000 would go toward helping people in her hometown rebuild their lives. Her sponsor, KPMG, surprised Lewis on Sunday by announcing that the company would match that number, bringing the total to $390,000. Lewis also collected shoes from fellow players to ship back to Houston.

This was personal.

“It’s hard to even think about the win itself,” she said.

Instead, she’s thinking about how to best put that money into action. It’s the reason why Lewis’ long-awaited victory became the best kind of sports story. The kind that gives hope.

“I was so focused on giving every shot 100 percent because I knew what it meant,” said a noticeably calmer Lewis.

When the race against In Gee Chun grew tight on Sunday, Lewis gave the wheel to a greater force.

“I don’t know,” she said, “just kind of handed over control and said, ‘Take me. Take me to the finish line. Let me know what happens, God.’ ”

Lewis moved to The Woodlands, Texas, a suburb of Houston, at age 11. She now makes her home with husband Gerrod Chadwell at the Golf Club of Houston, where the PGA Tour’s Shell Houston Open is played.

While the couple’s home remained safe, Chadwell, head women’s coach at the University of Houston, took his team to Dallas after the campus shut down due to flooding. He even kayaked to the team’s facility at the Golf Club of Houston to try to rescue some of the team’s electrical equipment.

Dale Lewis can’t remember the last time he felt so nervous watching his daughter compete. The Lewis’ had decided not to travel to Portland this year, which worked out since they couldn’t have made it anyhow. Their house in The Woodlands sits up about 8 feet above the street so it remained dry. But their friends have had 7 to 8 feet of water in their homes and will lose everything.

Dale has seen the images on TV of heaping trash – everything people owned – stacked up as tall as a car lining both sides of the street in neighborhoods all over Houston. The devastation is overwhelming.

“They’re estimating only 20 percent of the people have flood insurance,” said Dale. “(Stacy) is leaning toward helping people rebuild their homes.”

Lewis first won on the LPGA at the ANA Inspiration (then the Kraft Nabisco) in 2011, four months after she and her mother returned from a humanitarian trip to Rwanda with LPGA Hall of Famer Betsy King. Africa was a life-changing experience for Lewis, and she returned to the LPGA with a renewed sense of purpose. Likewise, Lewis played with a greater sense of appreciation this week in Portland.

“Say what you want,” said her mom Carol, “it’s a God thing.”

Chadwell was supposed to travel with his team back to Houston on Sunday, but he instead made a surprise trip to Portland to support his wife. Lewis didn’t know he was in town until it was over. She broke down in tears on the 18th when she saw him. It’s the first time Dale can remember seeing his middle child cry after a victory since the 2011 Kraft.

Lewis hadn’t won since Chadwell came into the picture. Sharing a life with someone changed the two-time major winner’s focus. Not away from winning, of course, but from putting in what it takes to be No. 1 again. Lewis didn’t simply fit Chadwell into her life, she made him a priority. And for an athlete who was the best in the world not long ago, that was a major adjustment.

Chadwell was by her side for all the close calls, and now it was time to celebrate.

“You know, you go through all the emotions of finishing second when sometimes it’s your fault and sometimes it’s not,” said Lewis, “and things just don’t seem to ever go your way and you get really frustrated at times. He went through all of that with me, and it was probably as hard on him as it was on me.”

Lewis was diagnosed with scoliosis the same year she moved to Texas and wore a back brace under her clothes until she graduated from high school. During her freshman year at Arkansas, doctors placed a steel rod in her back.

This is a tough-as-nails player who has made a career of inspiring others. Dale thinks back on all the other Sundays that could’ve gone Stacy’s way. No other victory would’ve garnered this much attention thanks to her selfless act.

“I think things happen how they are supposed to,” said Lewis.

In other words, it was worth the wait.

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