Lewis wins, sets eyes on Tseng's No. 1 ranking

Stacy Lewis

PRATTVILLE, Ala. -– Stacy Lewis has stayed at the Sleep Inn each time she has come to Prattville. Success hasn’t done much to change the low-maintenance Texan. She comes back to the Navistar LPGA Classic each year because the tournament helped give her pro career a boost in the months following her college graduation. It paid off nicely on Sunday afternoon as she clipped defending champion Lexi Thompson by two strokes to capture her fourth career title.

“When I checked in this week, the lady knew me when I walked in the door,” Lewis said. “I'm not a person defined by my success. I just love playing golf, and if I play pretty well, it's just a bonus.”

Lewis’ three titles this season give her a 56-point advantage over Jiyai Shin in the Rolex Player of the Year race. No American has won the title since Beth Daniel in 1994. The Navistar victory also moved her back to No. 2 in the world behind Yani Tseng and second in the money race behind Inbee Park.

Thompson made a nice back-nine charge with birdies on Nos. 10-12 and was within one shot of Lewis with one to play. Lewis, however, hit an 8-iron to 12 feet on No. 16 and drained the downhill birdie putt to build her lead back to two by the time Thompson reached the 18th green. Thompson missed her 6-foot birdie putt on the last hole but still finished solo second.

“I just got some weird putts that broke different ways than I thought, just total misreads,” Thompson said. “You know, that happens.”

This marks Lewis’ 14th top-10 finish in 21 events this season. Her only missed cut of the season came in Hawaii when her dad, Dale, caddied for her after her regular looper had a death in the family. That experience led to a family conversation about the pressures that come with additional success – sponsorships and media obligations, increased expectations and less personal space – that take some getting used to. Lewis “felt horrible” about taking out her frustrations inside the ropes on those closest to her. She needed time and space to figure out a healthy balance.

“I told (my parents) I needed a little bit of a break,” said Lewis, “to help figure out how to leave golf at the golf course and not push it on my family, which is what I was doing.”

Dale Lewis was back in Prattville this week, eating pizza at Mellow Mushroom with his middle child and living and dying over her every shot. Lewis said it was good to win with dad back in the gallery. He was shaking when she hugged him after the round.

“That’s why he’s not on the bag anymore,” she said with a laugh.

Lewis said every shot down the stretch was stressful, but she now knows how her body will react to nerves and adrenaline. It’s not a perfect science, but it’s a more comfortable position now that she has won four times. She rocked a drive down the 18th nearly 300 yards and left her birdie putt a few inches short. It wasn’t an historic victory, but it put Lewis in a better position to end several significant American droughts.

It also sent a rather strong message to Yani Tseng, her neighbor at the Sleep Inn and her toughest competition.

“Now I have my sights set on Yani,” Lewis said. “I think I've got the game to get there.”

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