HARRIS COUNTY - HSA INSIDER

A weekly look at all things Houston sports from the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority: Stacy Lewis has a great story to tell

Stacy Lewis was honored at Augusta. Courtesy photo

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Stacy Lewis shook her head as she watched her acceptance notes  disappear from her phone.

She was shifting hands as she prepared to pose for a picture with a cast bronze statue of Ben Hogan – her trophy for winning the 2018  Hogan Award -- and, before she could step to the microphone, she was in reboot-mode.

No sweat.

A minute later, the former No. 1 female player in the world delivered the line of the night at the annual the Golf Writers Association of America Awards dinner in Augusta, Ga.

“Just so you know,’’ she grinned, “a golfer has reached No. 1 in the world and won major championships already with a back fusion.’’

Point taken. Writers have been so swept up with Tiger Woods’ latest comeback – this from spinal fusion – they forgot about Lewis, who had back fusion in the summer of 2003.

Diagnosed with scoliosis as a child, the Houstonian wore a back brace for years, but, when she was 18, the curvature was still there and she underwent surgery. She redshirted her first year at Arkansas.

By 2014, she had won two majors, had been Rolex Player of the Year twice, had two Vare Trophies (lowest scoring average on the LPGA Tour) and earned the LPGA’s 2014 money title. In 2016, she finished just off the medal stand at the Rio Olympics, tying for fourth.

Lewis was sidelined with an oblique strain earlier this year, but returned to competition at last week’s ANA Inspiration, the women’s first major of the year. She finished tied for 55th, then she flew to Augusta where she accepted her award Wednesday night and she and her family spent a few days watching the first men’s major of the season.

Lewis has won the writers’ Player of the Year award twice and may soon be in line as a nominee for another award – this one for giving back, something Lewis does constantly.

A week after Hurricane Harvey hit Houston last fall, Lewis won the Portland Cambia Classic. She celebrated snapping a 39-month winless drought by donating her $195,000 winner’s check to Hurricane Harvey relief. Her sponsor KMPG matched that and Marathon Petroleum donated $1 million.

She invited Mackenzie McRee, a 14-year-old junior player from Arizona who has scoliosis who competed at the Drive, Chip & Putt Finals Sunday, to sit with her at the awards dinner.

“I just thought it would be a cool experience for her to come here, meet some players and enjoy this,’’ she said. “… For me, it’s all about just being there for those kids and letting them know they’re not alone in (scoiosis).’’

Lewis made sure to introduce McRee to world No. 2 Justin Thomas, who was at the dinner to accept the writers’ 2017 Player of the Year award,  and spend about five minutes with him.

Lewis, who is the subject of an upcoming ESPN 30-for-30, admitted the years she wore the back brace were some of the most uncomfortable times ever, but, the brace and the surgery were, eventually, blessings in disguise.

“I learned that if I put in the effort and the time, I could reach my goals and even surpass them,’’ she said a few years ago. “You never know how high you'll be able to go if you don't let the condition define your limits.’’

She opens up about her journey to make sure McRee and others with the same condition know they’re not alone. And, after years of not wanting to talk about the journey, she is proud to share the story.

The normal way to do the surgery Lewis underwent was to go in from the back, but her surgeon, Houston orthopedic surgeon Dr. Gary Brock, chose to go in from the side.

He had won a raffle ticket for a free golf lesson before the surgery and, after the lesson, he called Lewis’ parents – Dale and Carol Lewis – to tell them he needed to perform the surgery from the side so she could have better rotation and flexibility.

“I was talking to (Brock) the other day and it turns out I’ve been a case study,’’ she said. “They’re convinced if they had done the surgery another way, I wouldn’t have been the golfer I am today.

“It’s amazing how little things in life move you in the right direction.”

As she wrapped up her note-less speech, she paused to thank her parents and her voice began to shake.

“Mom always said ‘You’re going to have a great story to tell one day,‘’ Lewis said. “And mom was right.’’


 

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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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