Monday, March 18, 2013

Stacy Lewis on top of the golf world

Dale Lewis never thought his daughter, Stacy, could be the No. 1 golfer in the world. His dream for her was much more modest.

“I just wanted her to play in one college golf tournament. That was it,” Dale said.

On Sunday, after Stacy had received a celebratory beer bath from LPGA Tour pros Gerina Piller and Kristy McPherson, father and daughter met on the 18th green at Wildfire Golf Club. Dale, his eyes moist, lifted Stacy in the air and spoke the words he once thought impossible.

“You’re the Number 1 player in the world,” he said.

So she is.

Lewis’ final-round 8-under 64 gave her a 3-shot victory over Ai Miyazato in the RR Donnelley Founders Cup and, more significantly, vaulted her past Na Yeon Choi and Yani Tseng to the top of the Rolex rankings.

For a woman who wore a back brace 18 hours a day for 7½ years starting at the age of 11 because of scoliosis, the ascent defies reason or explanation.

“Almost 10 years ago I was going into surgery to put a (titanium) rod and five screws in my back,” said Lewis, who ended Tseng’s 109-week stranglehold on No. 1 and is the first American to top the rankings since Cristie Kerr in 2010.

“That’s not normal. … I mean, I’m really not supposed to be here. People with metal in their back, how do you play golf? I don’t know. I don’t know how.”

Lewis started thinking about the No. 1 ranking midway through the 2012 season but figured it would take much of this year to get there — if she did at all. But two victories in four starts — she won the HSBC Women’s Champions earlier this month — made up the ground rather quickly.

“It’s just crazy,” Lewis said. … “To be Number 1 in the world — it’s what everybody out here on tour is working for, and to be that person, is, I mean, I really don’t even know what to say.”

For much of Sunday, victory seemed beyond Lewis’ grasp. Every time she made a birdie, Miyazato responded and maintained a 3-stroke lead with six holes left.

But then everyone found out that there’s more than one infamous 16th hole in the Valley.

On Saturday, Lewis incurred a 2-stroke penalty at the short (307 yards) and supposedly benign par 4 when her caddie, Travis Wilson, was ruled to have tested the sand in the left fairway bunker.

Sunday, No. 16 cost Miyazato the tournament.

Standing in the fairway with a 1-stroke lead and a pitching wedge in her hand, Miyazato hit her approach shot far left — “I was shocked. That’s not Ai at all,” Lewis said — and it rolled down a hill and into an unplayable lie in the desert. After inexplicably taking a drop in the desert rather than walking back to her original lie and hitting her fourth shot from the fairway, Miyazato wound up with a double-bogey.

Lewis then drained her birdie putt, pointed to Wilson and walked to the 17th tee with a 2-shot lead.

The tournament — and the No. 1 ranking — were hers.

“We were so motivated today,” said Lewis, 28. “I really wanted to birdie 16. That was kind of in the back of my mind all day, and as soon as I made that putt, I pointed to Travis, and I said, ‘That one’s for you.’

“He would have felt horrible if we lost by 2, so that’s why I just put the dagger in and made some more putts there coming in.”

Lewis, who donated $50,000 of her purse to the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf foundation, won’t be burdened by the pressure of being No. 1.

She knows there will be additional demands on her time and that she’ll be under the microscope every time she tees it up.

But she has a back held together by a rod and five screws, and all dad wanted was that one college tournament.

What’s not to enjoy?

“I watched Yani struggle with (the expectations) for too long,” Lewis said. “I’m going to go have fun.”

Reach Bordow at scott.bordow! or 602-444-7996. Follow him on Twitter at

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