RIO DE JANEIRO – Happy. Mad. Grumpy. Whatever works.
Stacy Lewis arrived at the Olympics with lowered expectations. That’s a difficult thing for one of the fiercest competitors in the game to admit. But she was exhausted from playing six weeks in a row, then took a two-week break, got married and didn’t prepare for the Games as much as she would’ve liked.
Those expectations were tempered; until she stepped on the first tee.
Expectations began to increase with every step during Wednesday’s first round. Lewis was relatively pleased with an opening 70, but promptly bolted to the practice range because something in her swing just didn’t feel right. She didn’t find what she was looking for.
Lewis, 31, returned Thursday looking for more answers on the range and, again, came up empty. She stormed to the first tee “mad” because she didn’t know what was in front of her. New husband Gerrod Chadwell told Golf Channel that his bride was “grumpy.”
Nearly five hours later, Lewis had made 11 birdies and signed for a sensational 8-under 63 to take the lead. An hour thereafter, Inbee Park topped her total mark and took the top spot by a shot.
“Something seemed to click and I got some more confidence as the day went on,” Lewis said. “I think the putts going in definitely helps. Any time you see some putts go in, it frees up the swing a little more. But I don’t know. I didn’t expect this today at all.”
Lewis’ putting was lethal. Sure, she hit the ball much closer to the hole than she did the previous day, but she drained six putts longer than 10 feet, including one from 20 and another from 28 feet. The icing came when she struggled off the tee and found herself 199 yards from the hole for her third shot on the par-5 home hole. She carved a hybrid to within 4 feet and made birdie.
Here’s the kicker: Lewis made a carless bogey on the seventh hole and a made double bogey on the par-3 14th when she three-putted from 30 feet. But she rebounded with four consecutive birdies to end her round.
“Sometimes when I get mad I get more focused,” she said, bluntly.
The only thing that went wrong for Lewis on this record-setting day was that she wore a sleeveless shirt. Her shoulders, white at the beginning of the day, were beet red by the end of it.
“I never go sleeveless,” she quipped. “Apparently I should.”
Until the last month, Lewis had been frustrated because she hasn’t collected a victory in over two years. In fact, since her last victory in June 2014 (NW Arkansas Championship) Lewis has 11 runner-up finishes and 27 top-10s, four of those coming in her last four events.
The former world No. 1 has won 11 LPGA events and two majors during her career but was desperate to break out of her winless funk. So, two months ago, on her way to the Portland Classic, she watched video of her victories, wanting to see if there was anything different between past and present. One of the obvious things she noticed was in the setup of her putting.
“I don’t know what it was, but just watching those videos really helped me,” she said, also noting that those videos showed her that she hit a lot of bad shots and still won big tournaments.
Lewis hasn’t finished worse than seventh since she did her homework.
Now she finds herself in contention halfway through the Olympics, a tournament Lewis floundered on playing until she realized that not playing would be a humungous mistake.
Lewis is gaining confidence with every waking moment. She began the week happy, turned mad and grumpy for spurts, and then was satisfied after putting the finishing touches on a 63 as she’s searching for an elusive victory.
“It’s definitely not 100 percent,” Lewis said. “There are some swings out there today I’d like to have over again. But I feel like I know what I need to do. I’m going in the right direction.