Lewis the first American to win POY since 1994

By Randall MellNovember 13, 2012, 11:34 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Stacy Lewis makes a triumphant return to the United States this week in the CME Group Titleholders at TwinEagles Club.

After five weeks in Asia and Mexico, the LPGA is back in its American base for its season-ending event with Lewis leading the parade.

Lewis makes it an American celebration, of sorts.

With her victory in Japan two weeks ago, with her tie for fourth last week, Lewis clinched the Rolex Player of the Year award. She will receive the honor during the LPGA’s Rolex Awards Reception at the Ritz Carlton after Friday’s second round. It’s a big deal because she’s the first American to be Player of the Year since Beth Daniel in 1994.

“Stacy wasn’t afraid to be player of the year,” said Meg Mallon, the U.S. Solheim Cup captain. “She not only wanted it, she went out and got it, and I’m just so thrilled for her. I know how hard she worked for it.”

A lot of American LPGA pros are happy that the 18-year drought is over.

“A lot of reactions I’ve gotten from Americans, they’re genuinely happy for me,” Lewis said. “We are really competitive, and I’m sure they want to be doing what I’m doing right now, but they are just very happy for me. They’re probably just as tired as me in having to answer all the questions (about the American POY drought).”

The last time an American won the honor was the same year Justin Bieber was born.

It was back when Bill Clinton was still president of the United States and back before Facebook was invented.

“I think Stacy’s opened the door for all the Americans out there,” Mallon said.

This week, Lewis will seek to become the first American to win five LPGA events in a season since Juli Inkster did it in ’99. No matter what happens, Lewis will have reason to smile playing her way around TwinEagles.

Of course, those who know Lewis best aren’t expecting a lot of smiles, at least not when she’s playing.

Lewis, 27, broke through for the Americans with an intensity that sets her apart.

“Stacy has the same kind of intensity that Kathy Whitworth had, and, ironically, that Beth Daniel had,” Mallon said.

When Daniel sees the Lewis scowl during a round, she sees a kindred spirit.

“I get so mad when I hear people say Stacy needs to smile more out there,” Daniel said. “I heard that my whole career.

“Stacy’s tough on herself, and I was tough on myself. When you see her being hard on herself, she’s actually pumping herself up. She’s telling herself, `I’m better than this.’”

Daniel understands what drove Lewis to win the Player of the Year award. Daniel won three of them with the same intense focus. That’s why Lewis sought out Daniel for some advice before her win in Japan two weeks ago. Lewis said Daniel shared how miserable she made herself in ’94 focusing so hard on trying to win POY. Daniel told Lewis she was difficult to be around at the end of that year, and she wanted Lewis to enjoy the moment more than she did.

Lewis took the message to heart.

“It’s just crazy to think that there have been so many great American players, and I’m the one after Beth,” Lewis said. “It’s pretty unbelievable.”

Lewis’ peers will tell you there’s no secret in how she broke through to be the LPGA’s best player.

“She just works so hard,” said Brittany Lincicome, one of Lewis’ close friends. “She’s constantly working out. She’s up at five and six in the morning working out.”

In the gym, on the range, Lewis has strengthened every facet of her game the last three seasons.

Diagnosed with scoliosis when she was 11, Lewis has overcome a lot in her upward climb. She had a spinal fusion as a teenager.

“You look at Stacy’s life, at how disciplined she’s had to be, it translates into her golf game,” Daniel said.

Joe Hallet will second that. He’s Lewis’ swing coach.

“It’s about relentless hard work for Stacy,” Hallett said. “No matter how frustrated she may get, she always figures out a way to get through it.”

Lewis is slender at just 5 feet 5, but she’s 21st on the tour in driving distance, averaging nearly 260 yards per drive.

“As small as Stacy is, she just bombs it,” Lincicome said. “She’s little, but she’s surprisingly strong.”

So many players get lost searching for golf’s version of the Holy Grail.

So many players lose their edge in the search for power.

Practice ranges are littered with wrecks in the quest.

Lewis isn’t among them.

Through her strength program, and with Hallett’s help, she averages nearly 10 yards a drive longer than she did as a rookie. She believes she’s even longer than the numbers reveal. The power has come through a combination of strength training and tightening up her swing.

“I remember her dad watching her and saying, `I’ve never seen your swing so short,’”  Hallett said. “She says, `Yeah, but I’m hitting it 20 yards farther.’ Stacy’s physical training is a huge factor in that. She has really strengthened her core, and that has helped accommodate swing changes.”

Hallett began working with Lewis three years ago. He said the swing changes were all about making her more efficient.

“We really shoot for something I like to call the `Government Employee Swing,’” Hallett said. “Minimal input, with maximum output.

“Stacy had some issues with her swing being long, and maybe a little loose. That robbed her of some power because she had to use all her strength to put things back together and hit the ball. Her physical training, her strength, has helped her maintain her posture throughout the shot. That translates into more solid contact.”

That’s also translated into a big year, the biggest on tour this season.

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.