NAPLES, Fla. – Stacy Lewis made her father marvel yet again Friday night when she became the first American in 18 years to win the Rolex Player of the Year award.
These days Dale Lewis' mind often races back to a frightening time, and it did again when Lewis stepped onto the stage at the Ritz Carlton to accept her award during the LPGA’s Rolex Awards Celebration.
Lewis remembers the surgery his daughter endured just before enrolling at the University of Arkansas nine years ago.
That’s the day a doctor cut under his daughter’s rib cage in a six-hour procedure, deflating her left lung and moving her heart’s aorta to make room to operate on her damaged spine. The doctor told Dale there was a risk she could be paralyzed as they fixed a rod and five screws onto her backbone as a remedy for the scoliosis that plagued her.
Watching his daughter come out of that surgery, Dale remembers the pain in her face when medical staff told her she needed to get out of bed and walk to the bathroom.
“I remember her shuffling her feet, and the tears coming down her face,” Lewis said. “That’s a picture I’ll never forget.”
Dale will also never forget Stacy stepping to the first tee in her first event for the Razorbacks women’s golf team. Stacy redshirted as a freshman to recover from the surgery, but she gradually worked her way back into the game.
“I remember sitting in the doctor’s office when they told me I had to have surgery,” Lewis said. “I thought I would never play golf again.”
That’s why Dale was so moved watching Stacy play her first collegiate event. He knew how badly she wanted to play for Arkansas, and he flew to Albuquerque, N.M., to watch.
“When she hit that first tee shot, and we saw she going to get to play golf in college, that’s all we ever hoped for,” Dale said.
That made Friday’s award presentation so remarkable for the Lewis family. It's so much more than they ever dreamed possible.
Lewis took the stage at the end of the program and told the audience she believes there's a purpose even in your troubles.
'I remember sitting in my doctor's office before the surgery and thinking 'Why me? Why is this all happening to me?''' Lewis said. 'That is something I've asked a lot in my life, in the good and the bad, and I still don't know the answer to that. I don't know why I am up here. I don't know why I have been through all I have been through, but I do know that everything that happens to you happens for a reason. And all the adversity I have gone through is the reason I am up here tonight and that I would not be here without the help of a lot of people.'
A year ago, Lewis helped Yani Tseng with her acceptance speech as player of the year. Lewis said she never imagined back then that she would be writing her own speech this year.
“At this time last year, would I have even thought about being player of the year?” Lewis said. “Absolutely not.”
Lewis said helping Tseng last year did not make writing her own speech any easier. She was nervous.
“It’s a lot easier when you don’t have to make the speech yourself,” Lewis said. “Yani had her speech written, and I just helped her with some translations. I don’t like reading things, so I’m just going to get up there and talk.”
Lewis’ parents were at the awards program, as were her coach, Joe Hallett; her caddie, Travis Wilson; and her managers Jeff Chilcoat and J.S. Kang.
Notably, Gary Brock, the Houston doctor who led Lewis’ spinal fusion surgery, also was there. Lewis might not be the LPGA’s player of the year if not for a fortuitous turn of events before that surgery. Brock knew Lewis played golf in the Houston area, but he did not know she was so talented that Arkansas offered her a scholarship. He did not know that until he won a raffle that led to a series of golf lessons shortly before the surgery.
Brock had planned to implant a double rod on Lewis’ spine, but a double rod would reduce flexibility. When Brock showed up for his golf lesson, Lewis’ name came up, and the pro raved about her game. Brock knew he needed to alter his surgical plan.
“He was like, `We’re going to do this surgery differently now. We’re going to put one rod in, and you will have more rotation,’” Lewis said. “The recovery is a little bit longer, but you’ll be able to play golf better.”
Friday night, the Lewis family marveled at just how much better she was able to play.