Stacy Lewis is the top-ranked American in women's golf. She leads the LPGA Tour Player of the Year standings and has won twice this season.
She owes her ascension, in large measure, to scoliosis.
"I wouldn't be where I am, at this level, if I hadn't gone through everything with my back," Lewis said Friday after completing two rounds of the Kingsmill Championship at 8-under-par.
When the LPGA last played here, in 2009, Lewis was a rookie. An accomplished amateur and 2008 graduate of Arkansas, she missed the cut.
Her subsequent rise is arguably the tour's most dramatic change.
Lewis broke through at the 2011 Kraft Nabisco, the season's first major championship, where she outdueled Yani Tseng, the world's top-ranked player. The victory came less than a week after Lewis' 84-year-old grandfather, the man who introduced her to golf, passed away.
"I thought I had a really good year," Lewis said, "(but) Yani stole the show a little bit. So I kind of thought I didn't get the recognition I deserved, and that kind of motivated me into the offseason just to play better."
Indeed, Tseng's seven wins, including two majors, eclipsed everyone. Lewis, too, played well throughout, missing just one cut in 23 tournaments and finishing second to Tseng in the Player of the Year standings.
As good as she was in 2011, Lewis has been far better in '12. She won the Mobile Bay and Shoprite events, and has seven other top-five finishes.
In short: no one-hit wonder here.
Given the LPGA's depth — there have been seven first-time winners in 19 tournaments this season — Lewis' consistency is remarkable.
"It's getting harder to win every year," said two-time Kingsmill champion Cristie Kerr. "You can't have a bad round. You can't have a bad stretch of holes."
Bad stretches are rare for Lewis, the primary reason she has passed Kerr as the top American in the world rankings and trails only Tseng.
"I've learned from every experience," Lewis said. "I've learned from winning, you learn from losing. Just kind of slowly crept up the rankings, and it's been nice that people have finally taken notice. My goal every week is just to give myself a chance to win."
Mission accomplished this week. Lewis' 6-under-par 65 Friday leaves her four shots behind leader Jiyai Shin.
Lewis' MO this week is familiar: Long off the tee (she's 21st on tour in driving distance) and precise with her irons (third in greens-in-regulation).
Case in point the par-5 7th hole, where she laced a fairway metal to within 10 feet and made the eagle putt.
Such power is impressive, period. For someone 5-foot-5 who wore a back brace for seven years, it's extraordinary.
Doctors diagnosed Lewis with scoliosis, a curvature of the spine, at age 11. After her senior year of high school, surgeons stabilized her back with a steel rod and five screws.
"At the time it was just something that I had to do," Lewis said. "I wasn't thinking of being a professional golfer or anything like that. I was a kid going through scoliosis and trying to do the best I could. …
"My doctor always told me to keep playing, do what everybody else was doing. I had to wear a brace, but golf was the time I got to take it off."
Following her surgery, Lewis became the consummate range rat. She's also become a spokesperson for the Scoliosis Research Society — she meets frequently with girls coping with the condition.
"I think it puts everything in perspective," Lewis said. "You realize how lucky you are to do what you do every day. I remember when I came back, all I wanted to do was practice. I just wanted to be outside and practice. I would … putt for hours until my coach made me go home."
The regimen paid handsome dividends. The discipline, determination and pain tolerance that Lewis learned as a child inform her as an adult.
Oh, and don't forget the patience. Even after an errant tee shot at 18 Friday led to a closing bogey, Lewis was upbeat.
"There's worse things," she said, "than a bad golf shot."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun