Perfect shot propels Stacy Lewis

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- It's not that Stacy Lewis became mesmerized seeing the Old Course on television, the way a lot of Americans do. Instead, her affection for the place kicked in when she came to play here in the Curtis Cup amateur team competition in 2008.

She asked her caddie that week, a local, to tell her stories about the so-called "home of golf." She didn't know that, one day, she'd add her own chapter at St. Andrews: "The Day Stacy Lewis Road the Road Hole to a Championship."

If the rest of this landmark week fades a little in her memory as she ages, what happened Sunday afternoon on the penultimate hole at a sun-drenched Old Course probably never will. She'll always be able to see that clearly in her mind.

It wasn't just her amazing birdie on No. 17 at the Women's British Open that propelled Lewis to the second major title of her career and first for an American since … well, since Lewis herself won the Kraft Nabisco Championship in the spring of 2011.

"I hit the perfect golf shot," Lewis said of her approach to 17, which gave her a 3-foot putt for birdie that, at the time, tied her for the lead with South Korea's Na Yeon Choi. "I saw the shot in my head, but to actually pull it off … a shot like that doesn't happen very often."

Lewis' par-72 in the final round followed her 69 Sunday morning in the wind-delayed third round. She finished at 8-under 280, giving her a two-shot victory over South Koreans Choi and Hee Young Park. Lewis birdied both Nos. 17 and 18 in the fourth round, which she said was probably the best finish of her career.


"I made a pretty good putt on 17 at the Kraft, too," Lewis said of her first major, played at Mission Hills Country Club in California, a course and place that bear little resemblance to St. Andrews. "[This might] be ahead of the Kraft. Eighteen was probably the hardest hole location we had all week there. And to birdie 17, any day, is good. Let alone the final round of a major."

Let's set the scene as Lewis walked up to the 17th green, because a lot was going on. South Korea's Inbee Park, the No. 1 player in the world trying to complete her Grand Slam, had already finished the tournament tied for 42nd. Thus, the big story coming into this week was no more.

"Inbee deserved the attention," Lewis said. "I know that position [No. 1] she's in is very hard, and she did extremely well all year playing with it."

Someone asked Park after her round of 78 whom she might be rooting for of those still out on course. She acknowledged she'd like to see her good friend Choi get her second major.

At that point, it looked very much like that could happen. Choi was at 9 under on the 12th hole, and it appeared to be her championship to win. But the very next hole, things began to slip away from Choi, the 2012 U.S. Women's Open winner. She bogeyed Nos. 13 and 14.

Lewis, playing ahead of Choi, put the 8-under score on the board with a 25-foot birdie putt on No. 18. It says something about how awesome her approach was on 17 that her final putt for birdie was only the second-most impressive feat of her round.

So Choi came into No. 17 at 7 under knowing she was now playing catch-up. The Road Hole is famous, but let's face it … it's a little busy, don't you think? The tee shot over the Old Course Hotel, then the cart path, the eponymous road, and the stone wall all behind the green. It's the kind of clutter only a place this ancient could get away with.

Furthermore, the first time the Women's British was played here at St. Andrews, No. 17 was a par 5. It was changed to a par 4 for this tournament, and it played as the hardest hole all week, with a stroke average of 4.627. There were only five birdies there the final round, and 18 for the week -- none bigger than the one Lewis got Sunday.

Choi already looked a bit demoralized, even though at that point she just needed a par on 17 and a birdie on the course's easiest hole, 18, to make a playoff with Lewis. But when Choi missed her par putt on 17, the American "drought" in major championships was over.

Crazy day? You could say that. It started at the crack of dawn with most of the field having to complete the third round. Then throughout the afternoon, different players took their turn atop the leaderboard, including American Morgan Pressel and Hee Young Park.

Pressel, who was also in contention at the LPGA Championship in June, once again had a rough final round with a major on the line. She shot a 75 on Sunday at the LPGA Championship to tie for third, and a 76 here to tie for fourth.

Still, Pressel has to be encouraged that she has been in the mix at two majors this year and through her good play earned a coveted spot on the U.S. Solheim Cup team that was announced Sunday night. That competition is Aug. 16-18, and qualifying for it has weighed heavily on Pressel's mind all year.

Lewis didn't have that worry; her Solheim spot has been secure for a while as she leads the U.S. points list. But after a breakthrough 2012 season in which she became the first American since 1994 to win LPGA player of the year, Lewis' performances in the three previous majors of 2013 left her disappointed.

Lewis tied for 32nd at the Kraft Nabisco, tied for 28th at the LPGA Championship and tied for 42nd at the U.S. Women's Open. She was No. 2 in the world, but there seemed to be quite a distance between her and Inbee Park.

But that narrowed this week at a place where Lewis had such good memories from the Curtis Cup, and at a time when American women's golf needed a helpful boost.

"I guess it was the longest stretch we've ever had for an American gap," Lewis said in regard to the 10 majors in a row that had no U.S. winner. "We get asked about it. You guys can't ask me that question for a while."

Lewis has overcome a lot, physically, to be a champion golfer, having dealt with scoliosis, back surgery, and significant time wearing a back brace when she was a teenager. Did it toughen her up? Absolutely, and she acknowledges that it also helps her now appreciate how far she has come.

But Lewis is also by nature an emotional player who has had to battle her temperament at times in her climb up the ranks of the LPGA. With a major championship on the line Sunday, she showed how well she has progressed with that, too.

"I made bogey on No. 15, and I said to myself, 'I can still win this. Just keep your head in it and don't get frustrated,' " Lewis said. "I was certainly tested, that's for sure. Somehow this week, I was just able to move on to the next shot.

"I was just hanging in there. And then, you know, 17 and 18 happened so fast, I don't know if it's really hit me yet. It's really cool to have that trophy."