With trusted caddie on bag, Lewis opens with 71

Stacy Lewis and her caddie Travis Wilson during the first round of the 2014 Ricoh Women's British Open at Royal Birkdale Golf Club in Southport, England.
Stacy Lewis and her caddie Travis Wilson during the first round of the 2014 Ricoh Women's British Open at Royal Birkdale Golf Club in Southport, England. ( Getty Images )

Friday, July 11, 2014

SOUTHPORT, England –– Travis Wilson doesn’t relish the spotlight. He’s the reserved man walking behind Stacy Lewis on any given fairway around the world. He’s the 41-year-old farmer from Ohio who packed up his truck 22 years ago and drove to Corning, N.Y., on a whim to loop one week for his aunt and never left.

There were times over the years when people tried to talk him out of caddying.

“I did the interviews,” said Wilson, who studied marketing and finance in college. “I got hired at a bank and didn’t show up.”

Why sit at a desk when there’s clay shooting in Dubai with the boss?

Lewis often talks to rookies about the importance of finding a consistent caddie. In fact, she mentioned it to young Charley Hull during the first round of the Ricoh Women’s British Open. She’s even had the talk with serial caddie changer Lydia Ko.

Wilson, you see, has been with Lewis since the beginning. Actually, he’s the only person with her this week at Royal Birkdale, which is sort of fascinating for a World No. 1. Lewis’ agent was in town earlier this week but left to go sightseeing with his daughter in London. Lewis never has wanted anyone to hold her hand. The first time her parents came to the Women’s British was last year when she won at St. Andrews. Even so, they didn’t come back.

While it’s fun sometimes to have friends and family with her on the road, Lewis also appreciates being alone – though she does have Wilson watching over her like a big brother. She spaces it out so that every three or four weeks it’s no one but caddie and player.

“It’s actually kind of nice to come here just the two of us,” said Lewis, who opened with a 1-under 71. “Let us do our thing.”

Wilson’s aunt, Tammie Green, was the 1987 LPGA Rookie of the Year. She phoned up her 19-year-old nephew in the summer of ’93 and asked if he wanted to fill in as her caddie for one week. Wilson, a college golfer, obliged and the next thing he knew they’d finished fourth in a major and won the Rochester International.

As he sat outside the player dining area overlooking the 18th at Royal Birkdale Thursday, Wilson talked about a moment he shared with his aunt on the 18th Sunday in Rochester. When Green saw her nephew’s serious face coming up the final hole, she told him to smile. Moments like this don’t happen every week.

“Well, why doesn’t it happen every week?” the rookie caddie thought to himself. They won in only their fourth start together.

Fast forward to 2011, when Wilson and Lewis were sharing a similar stroll down the 18th at the Kraft Nabisco Championship. Lewis, frustrated with her final wedge shot, put her head down as she made her way toward the Walk of Champions.

Wilson leaned in and told his boss to pick up her head and smile. Moments like this don’t happen every week.

“That was probably the best walk I've ever had,” Lewis said after the round.

When he’s not working, Wilson can be found on his six-acre farm in Somerset tending to a patch of sweet corn. He likes to hunt whatever is in season and has asked Lewis to pay him four times a year so he can better keep track of his taxes.

“I don’t really care about the money,” Wilson told her that first year. “I just love to caddie.”

It’s one of the many ways Lewis and Wilson complement each other. Likewise, money has never driven Lewis.

Friends call Wilson a prankster. He’s been known to short-sheet his roommate’s bed or turn the shower head down toward the faucet.

Caddies often look for the dots rules officials place on the greens to indicate the hole location for the next round. Shaun Clews, a longtime mate of Wilson’s, recalled watching Wilson pick up a leaf one year in Arkansas and placing it over the dot so a friend working in the group behind wouldn’t find it.

“It’s fun looking back to watch them search for it,” Wilson said, grinning.

Wilson’s greatest asset as a caddie might be his ability to stay level. The first time Lewis ever saw him truly mad was at the 2013 Founders Cup in Phoenix. LPGA rules officials determined that Travis had tested the surface of a bunker with his feet on the 16th hole and dished out a two-stroke penalty to Lewis, who fell to four strokes behind Ai Miyazato heading into the final round.

Lewis took Wilson out for a beer after the round to calm him down. She went out the next day determined to win more for her caddie than anything else.

“I grabbed him and I was like ‘Hey, don’t worry about it. We’ve got a golf tournament to win,’ ” Lewis said.

And they did.

The only other time Lewis has seen Wilson mad was earlier this year in San Francisco when he was hit by a golf cart.

It’s tradition that caddies take the flag from the 18th green as a victory souvenir. Wilson’s flags are piled up in his loft. He got them out last month to make sure he had all 10, took a picture of the spread and sent it to Lewis saying “There’s room for more.”

Two weeks later she won in Arkansas.

“Stacy has a very tight circle around her and Travis is one of the most important pieces to her team,” said Lewis’ college coach Shauna Estes-Taylor by email. “She has developed a trust with him that she believes in on and off the golf course.”

Lewis’ father Dale, her caddie during those amateur days, got to know Wilson in Toledo before Stacy turned professional. When it came time to find a full-time looper, Lewis’ agent put together a list and the family reached out to former player Nancy Scranton for advice.

Wilson would be perfect, Scranton said.

After their first week together in Danville, Calif., Wilson wasn’t sure if the quiet player would take him next to Hawaii. She did and passed half the field on Sunday by shooting 65.

“From then it was on,” Wilson said.

He learned quickly that Lewis, a logical thinker, is a consummate student. He’s keen to learn too, talking to her swing instructor about what to look for and diving into AimPoint to offer help on the greens.

Lewis admits she has yelled at him before, but immediately feels badly and apologizes on the next hole. Not once has she ever even considered finding someone new.

“I wouldn’t be where I am without Travis, I can tell you that,” Lewis said.

You can take that to the bank.

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