HARRIS COUNTY - HSA INSIDER
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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.
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.’’