Lewis locks up Rolex POY title in Mexico

With a T-4 finish at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational on Nov. 11, Stacy Lewis locked up the Rolex Player of the Year Award.

It wasn’t too long ago that a highly disappointed Stacy Lewis flew to the 2008 Curtis Cup at St. Andrews on the heels of the NCAA Championship, completely bummed she lost the college Player of the Year title to Duke’s Amanda Blumenherst.

Four years later, Lewis left Guadalajara, Mexico, with the LPGA Rolex Player of the Year Award locked up. American favorites Paula Creamer, Cristie Kerr and Morgan Pressel have yet to accomplish what Lewis did in four years on the LPGA. The woman who spent 7 1/2 years in a back brace put her toughness on full display.

“She took it in her own hands and made it happen,” said Beth Daniel, the last American to win Player of the Year honors, back in 1994. “That’s a lot harder to do than people think.”

Lewis put the hammer down in Japan when she won the Mizuno Classic for her fourth title of the season, expanding her POY lead against a hard-charging Inbee Park. With two tournaments remaining on the schedule, Park needed to win both and Lewis had to finish outside the top 10. Park came within one stroke of winning the Lorena Ochoa Invitational, and Lewis closed with a 68 to tie for fourth.

“After I finally made my last putt there on 18, I think it finally hit me,” Lewis said. “It’s just crazy to think that there have been so many great American players and I am the one after Beth in ’94.”

Lewis, 27, also has a chance to become the first American player since Betsy King in 1993 to win the LPGA money title. The season-ending CME Group Titleholders has a first-place check of $500,000. Park leads Lewis by $402,682 in the money race, and by 0.06 points in scoring average. The Vare Trophy, which recognizes the season's low scorer and is another true test of an overall season, remains up for grabs.

Lewis has more than $4 million in career earnings, thanks in large part to 16 top-10 finishes in 23 events this season. She lost in a playoff to start the year in Australia and tied for second at the Wegmans LPGA Championship in June.

What looked like the start of another monster year for World No. 1 Yani Tseng ended with some long-awaited American success. Lewis’ triumph isn’t likely to overhaul the LPGA, but it will give tour commissioner Mike Whan a fresh and welcomed talking point when it comes to speaking with potential domestic sponsors.

Lewis will be recognized for her achievement on Friday at the Rolex Awards Celebration, which will be televised for the first time this year, by Golf Channel. A 30-minute recap show will air at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 29.

Somewhere, Lewis is practicing her speech.

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