FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Stacy Lewis stepped into a car following the Kraft Nabisco Championship, her first opportunity to fully grasp what she had just done.
There were no more media obligations that day, no more victory leaps into Poppie’s Pond. There was still worry about the leg injury that had befallen her mom, Carol, on her leap into the water, but that could wait just a bit.
The only thought at that moment for Stacy Lewis was her new title, champion. Major champion at that.
“I just stopped and took this huge sigh of relief, like ‘I just can’t believe it,'” Lewis said Friday after returning home to Arkansas. “You work so hard for it. In practice, you sit there practicing putts like, ‘This is the putt to win the U.S. Open,’ or a putt to win whatever.
“Just to have that opportunity to do it and get the monkey off your back for a win and a major at the same time, you couldn’t really script it any more perfect.”
Lewis’ three-shot win over top-ranked Yani Tseng was her first official win on the LPGA Tour. While the victory might have served as a crowning achievement for some, the relief Lewis felt was a result of her early success on tour and relative struggles since.
The 26-year-old appeared a sure bet even before she was a member of the tour, finishing fifth at the Kraft Nabisco as an amateur in 2007. The former four-time All-American at Arkansas unofficially won the rain-shortened LPGA’s Northwest Arkansas Championship later that year as an amateur before finishing third in her first U.S. Open as a pro.
Lewis tried to earn her way onto the tour through sponsor exemptions in 2008 but was unsuccessful. She finished first at Qualifying School late that year to earn her card for 2009, but she finished 47th on the money list that first full season.
It turned out that life as a professional wasn’t quite as easy as Lewis thought it would be.
“All these things were expected of me, and I expected more of myself,” Lewis said. “My first year was definitely a learning experience. I remember being in Korea and Japan, in the hotel room by myself and lost with my golf swing.
“I didn’t know what to do to play better and was kind of questioning if I really should be even playing and doing this because it’s not fun when it’s like that.”
Lewis finished 21st on the money list last year, earning $566,400. She still felt something was missing from her game and sought out the help of swing coach Joe Hallett. The two worked on increasing Lewis’ length off the tee and her ability to shape her shots, and Lewis carried new confidence into this season.
“That’s the first (win) of many,” Arkansas golf coach Shauna Estes-Taylor said. “She’s driven to win, and when you’re driven by wanting to win, you work hard and do the right things. You make the right decisions.”
After making the cut in each of her first four events of the season, including a ninth-place finish at the Kia Classic the week before the Kraft Nabisco, Lewis felt her game had finally found the consistency she was looking for.
She proved that by opening with a 6-under 66 and finishing with a final-round 69 to finish 13-under for the tournament. That was more than enough to enter the final hole with a comfortable margin over Tseng.
Lewis, who moved up 13 spots to 15th in the world rankings this week, won 12 times in college. She said nothing quite lived up to the experience of winning as a professional.
And after initially thinking her mom broke her leg during the jump, Lewis found out Friday that it was only a muscle tear.
Everything, it seems, is going right for Lewis these days.
“I’m just trying to enjoy it,” Lewis said.