Toledo-born golfer Stacy Lewis ranked No. 2 in worldWritten by Sarah Ottney | Managing Editor | firstname.lastname@example.org
Competing in the Jamie Farr Toledo Classic will be a homecoming of sorts for top-ranked American golfer Stacy Lewis.
Lewis, 27, who is ranked No. 2 in the world behind Yani Tseng of Taiwan, was born in Toledo.
Although she moved to South Carolina and then Texas for her father’s job when she was young, the family returned regularly to visit.
“My parents were born and raised in Toledo,” Lewis wrote in an email to Toledo Free Press. “We moved when I was 2, but I have come back frequently. We still have lots of family in the area on my dad’s side and I feel so supported by them.”
Lewis achieved her goal of becoming the top-ranked American female golfer in June after winning the ShopRite LPGA Classic in New Jersey by a decisive four strokes.
The win bumped her past American Cristie Kerr into the No. 3 slot behind Tseng and 2010 Jamie Farr champion Na Yeon Choi of South Korea. Kerr had been the top-ranked American since 2009.
“I was being interviewed after a win and was speechless when I heard,” Lewis said. “I did not know how to react.”
Lewis, who recently passed Choi to gain the No. 2 spot, started golfing at age 8, although she said her talent wasn’t immediately apparent.
“My dad loved it and encouraged me to play,” Lewis said. “I was average to start and loved playing with my dad. Eventually, it led to a college scholarship.”
The Jamie Farr was the first LPGA tournament Lewis attended.
“We were visiting in the summer and I got to go,” Lewis said. “I visited [Toledo] most years growing up.”
The Jamie Farr was also the first LPGA tournament Lewis competed in, through a sponsors’ exemption as an amateur in 2008, and she has returned to compete each year since. Her highest finish was a tie for 26th in 2010.
Lewis said a win in her hometown would be extra-special.
“It would mean a lot to win in Toledo,” Lewis said. “I have a large contingent of family and friends and also the great people from Marathon [Petroleum Corporation] that will come follow me. They are known as the Lew Crew.”
The Findlay-based company is one of Lewis’ sponsors.
Battle with scoliosis
Lewis’ website, www.stacysback.com, proclaims her as “The Next Great American Golfer.”
The designation is made all the more impressive given the medical challenges she had to overcome to reach her goals.
Diagnosed with scoliosis when she was 11, Lewis spent more than seven years wearing a back brace for 18 hours a day, removing it only to play golf. Scoliosis is a medical condition that affects the curvature of the spine.
“I hid it and was self-conscious, but not really teased,” Lewis said of the brace.
After graduating from high school, she had back surgery, causing her to redshirt her freshman year at the University of Arkansas.
She worried she would never play golf again.
“The doctor told me I would be able to play golf, but I was unsure,” Lewis said. “He encouraged me to play. I had to follow doctor’s orders in order to live a normal life.”
Turns out Lewis’ worry was for naught.
Lewis won the Southeastern Conference (SEC) Tournament her redshirt freshman year and was named the SEC Freshman Golfer of the Year. She went on to win 12 collegiate tournaments, including the NCAA’s individual championship in 2007.
In September 2007, while only a junior at Arkansas, she finished T-5 at the Kraft Nabisco, a major championship on the LPGA Tour, and then won the rain-shortened LPGA NW Arkansas Championship.
In 2008, Lewis became the first person in the 76-year history of the Curtis Cup, a prestigious amateur tournament held at the Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland, to post a 5-0 record as she led the U.S. team to victory.
Lewis turned professional later that year and joined the LPGA Tour in 2009.
In 2011, Lewis held off top-ranked Tseng to win the 2011 Kraft Nabisco Championship, her first major title.
“[It was] nerve-wracking and a lot of fun!” Lewis said. “I still get a smile when I think of it.”
Since 2007, she has posted seven top-10 finishes in the 18 major championships she has entered. She has a win and four top-10 finishes in her last seven majors.
Thus far in 2012, Lewis has two wins, nine top-10 finishes and more than $900,000 in earnings. She is ranked in the top 10 in greens in regulation, putts, scoring average and No. 1 in birdies made.
Lewis still has a rod and five screws in her back.
“They will stay as long as nothing happens to them,” Lewis said. “I should not need further surgeries. I feel lucky to be able to play golf as a result of the surgery.”
Off the course, Lewis regularly volunteers her time to causes around the world. Photos on her website show her working with Habitat for Humanity in Virginia, helping build a school in Africa and lobbying in Washington, D.C., for physical education programs.
“Golf has taken me many places and I have met many great people,” Lewis said.
She said her most memorable trip was with Golf Fore Africa, a nonprofit that works with HIV/AIDS orphans in Africa.
She also often meets with scoliosis patients.
“I tell young fans with scoliosis to remain positive and follow doctor’s orders,” Lewis said.
Lewis still has high aspirations for her golf game.
Now she has Tseng, who has held the No. 1 spot for 77 consecutive weeks, in her sights.
“I hope to be No. 1 in the world,” Lewis said. “I love the competitiveness.”
For more information, visit www.stacysback.com.
Toledo Free Press Golf Writer Fred Altvater contributed to this report.