Hometown Hero: Stacy Lewis Wins Big for Houston

Posted by: mike September 8th, 2017

By Jeff Shain

Golf Insiders contributor

 

When Stacy Lewis pledged last week to donate whatever her winnings might be from the LPGA’s Cambia Portland Classic to hurricane relief in Houston, golf fans overwhelmingly nodded and smiled.

Go for it, girl. Do your hometown proud.

Hey, a top-10 finish would contribute $25,000 or so to the effort. That’s a lot of food and clothing for those facing a long rebuilding effort. Maybe a good week could find Lewis inside the top five, which would double the funding.

A win? Geez, nobody writes those scripts. Not to mention Lewis hadn’t won in three years. No need to create that kind of pressure.

But a funny thing happened at Columbia Edgewater Country Club. Lewis shot a 64 on Friday, then backed it up with a 65. Suddenly the Houstonian took a three-shot lead into the final round, a cushion that grew to five after opening birdie/birdie on Sunday.

Darn if she didn’t need every bit of it, too. In Gee Chun threatened to play the villain, closing the gap to one with two holes to play. But she missed a chance to tie on the 71st hole, as Lewis made a clutch par save, and Lewis salted things away with her 11th consecutive par.

“One of the best feel-good stories I’ve seen in a long time,” said Hall of Famer and Golf Channel analyst Judy Rankin, herself a longtime Texan.

Unbeknownst to Lewis, it got even better as she came down the stretch. KPMG, one of her chief sponsors, announced it would match Lewis’ Sunday winnings, whatever the amount. Another primary sponsor, Marathon, opted to attach $1 million to Lewis’ effort.

Total Sunday impact: Just shy of $1.4 million. With more to come after the LPGA pledged its cut of ticket receipts to Lewis’ effort.

“That’s unbelievable,” Lewis told Golf Channel. “Just (think of) what are we going to be able to do. We are going to be able to rebuild houses and for people to get their homes back. That is more important than any win.”

OK, maybe that number doesn’t catch the eye like the $14 million raised by Houston Texans defensive ace J.J. Watt. And there’s certainly plenty of need to go around – Hurricane Harvey dumped as much as 50 inches of rain in Houston, evacuating millions and leaving an estimated 30,000 people without a home to inhabit upon return.

So huge kudos to Watt. At the same time, the NFLer didn’t have his charitable impact hinging on his own performance in a given week.Stacy Lewis

Nor should Lewis’ near misses of the past three years be underplayed. Until Sunday, her last victory came at the 2014 Walmart NW Arkansas Championship. She took Player of the Year honors at season’s end, edging Inbee Park in the process.

In 82 starts since then, Lewis had finished runner-up no fewer than 12 times. Six of those came in 2015, including a pair of playoff losses at the ANA Inspiration (vs. Brittany Lincicome) and the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open (Lydia Ko).

At this year’s Founders Cup, she opened with a 64 on the way to four rounds in the 60s. However, nobody was going to catch Anna Nordqvist after her third-round 61.

“It’s been really frustrating at times,” Lewis said. “You go through all the emotions of finishing second – sometimes it’s your fault and sometimes it’s not, and things just don’t seem to ever go your way and you get really frustrated at times.”

So you might say Lewis was overdue. She just needed something bigger to take the focus off her own frustrations.

Not so fast, she pointed out. Tying a big charitable gift to how you perform on a specific weekend does not exactly ease pressure.

“Probably more pressure, to be honest,” Lewis said. “Then I just had more people following and paying attention and more people wanting to see how I was doing.”

Consider that when I.K. Kim split her entire winner’s check from the 2010 Lorena Ochoa Invitational between Ochoa’s educational foundation in Mexico and the Special Olympics, she didn’t say anything until after she won.

Lewis, on the other hand, put her objective out there in front of everyone. For Houston.

“I had the goal of winning the tournament,” said Lewis, whose own residence and her parents’ home were largely spared from Harvey’s floodwaters. “You have got to get a lot of things right and (have) things go your way.

“On the flip side, I had all the people encouraging me and wanting me to do well and pulling for me. I had so many messages on my phone and on social media. Probably the most I’ve ever had, as far as people really encouraging you.”

In the end, though, you still have to perform. And as the lead dwindled from four shots to three to two and then one, even Lewis began to wonder if she could get it across the line.

At one point, she took a short walk to the next tee even before Chun putted out in an effort to collect her thoughts.

“I kind of resigned (myself) to the fact that whatever was going to happen was going to happen,” Lewis said. “I just needed to commit to my golf shots and hit them.”

In that moment of letting go, perhaps, is where Lewis finally got out of her own way.

“I just kind of handed over control,” Lewis said, “and said, ‘Take me to the finish line. Let me know what happens, God.’ It was just amazing how when you let go of the control like that, how great you can play.”

And for that, all of Houston can be grateful.

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Jeff Shain is a former Orlando Sentinel golf writer, part of nearly two decades covering the sport that includes other stops at The Miami Herald and The Island Packet in South Carolina. He's also a digital contributor to PGATour.com and Pro Golf Weekly, and co-hosts the Prime Sports Golf podcast at PrimeSportsNetwork.com.