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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Garcia bounced in Austin: 'On to Augusta'

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 6:55 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – For the 16th time in his career, Sergio Garcia’s week at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play ended earlier then he would have hoped, but this time he has plenty of distractions to ease the sting.

Garcia lost his Saturday morning match to Kyle Stanley, 3 and 1, marking the 15th time in his Match Play career he’s failed to advance to Sunday, but at least he has plenty to keep him busy with a newborn at home and his return to the Masters looming in two weeks.

“On to Augusta,” said Garcia, who is not playing next week’s Houston Open. “It's exciting. Obviously when we get there, it's going to be interesting to see how we feel and everything. But it is definitely exciting.”

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Garcia defeated Justin Rose in a playoff to win last year’s Masters, his first major triumph, so his return to Augusta National will be unlike anything he’s ever experienced.

His duties as defending champion will include hosting Tuesday’s Champions Dinner. No word on Garcia’s menu for the event, but various sources have confirmed it will be something “Spanish.”

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Match-by-match: WGC-Dell Technologies, Sweet 16

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 24, 2018, 5:40 pm

Here is how things played out in the Round of 16 on Saturday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. The week began with 64 players taking on Austin Country Club,but the field is dwindling. Click here for Day 3 match results:

Match 97: Bubba Watson (35) def. Brian Harman (18), 2 and 1. Watson was 1 down going to the eighth hole, but he won four of the next five holes to turn around this battle of lefties. A 12-foot putt for eagle at the 12th dropped, giving him a 3 up lead coming home. It was Watson’s second eagle of the day. He looks as if he’s still riding the confidence from that Genesis Open victory last month. Watson will advance to play Kiradech Aphibarnrat in the quarterfinals.

Match 98: Kiradech Aphibarnrat (28) def. Charles Howell III (59), 1 up. Aphibarnrat won in a late comeback, winning the final two holes. He holed a 9-foot putt for birdie at the 17th to square the match and won with an 8-foot birdie at the last. He had not led all day, not until that last birdie putt dropped. The 28-year-old Thai improved to 4-0 on this world stage after sweeping his group in the round-robin play. A four-time European Tour winner, Aphibarnrat is looking for his first PGA Tour victory. He will meet Bubba Watson in the quarterfinals.

Match 99: Kyle Stanley (45) def. Sergio Garcia (7), 3 and 1. Stanley birdied the eighth, ninth and 10th holes to go 3 up, and then he held off Garcia’s run at him, eliminating the world No. 10 with birdies at the 16th and 17th holes. With the victory, Stanley has a chance at a nice Texas two-step, a chance to eliminate the two highest ranked players left in the field, the only players left among the top 10 in the world ranking. But, there’s hard work to do in the quarterfinals, where Stanley will meet world No. 2 Justin Thomas.

Match 100: Justin Thomas (2) def. Si Woo Kim (50), 6 and 5. Thomas remains on fire in this format, steamrolling Kim a day after completing a round-robin sweep of his group by blowing away Francesco Molinari, 7 and 5. The Kim match felt like it was over shortly after it started, with Thomas making the turn 5 up. Thomas will advance to play Kyle Stanley in the quarterfinals.

Match 101: Cameron Smith (46) def. Tyrell Hatton (12), 2 and 1. Smith found himself behind early, falling 2 down after Hatton opened with back-to-back birdies, but Smith quickly rallied to win one of the best matches of the day. He birdied four of the next five holes to go 1 up. Hatton lost despite making seven birdies on the round. He lost despite making birdies at the 15th, 16th and 17th holes to the red-hot Smith, who made eight birdies. Smith will meet Alex Noren in the quarterfinals.

Match 102: Alex Noren (13) def. Patrick Reed (19), 5 and 3. In this Fire vs. Ice match, Ice won, with Noren making easy work of Reed. Really, though, Reed never got a flame going, and Noren wasn’t going to help him the way Jordan Spieth did a day before. Reed was 2-over on his card before finally making his first and only birdie of the day at the 13th. Somewhere, European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn must have been smiling, watching Noren easily take down the formidable American match-play dynamo. Noren will meet Cameron Smith in the quarterfinals.

Match 103: Ian Poulter (58) def. Louis Oosthuizen (25), 2 and 1. Poulter’s match-play mojo is going strong again, with the Englishman summoning the intensity that has made him so formidable in the Ryder Cup over the years. He was on fire Saturday, making eight birdies over the first 15 holes, if you count the concession he received hitting a wedge to 18 inches at the 13th hole. Poulter put a special putter in the bag this week, using the same flat stick that helped him lead the Euros to their historic comeback victory against the Americans at Medinah in 2012. Though Oosthuizen made four birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine, he still couldn’t make it close. Poulter will meet Kevin Kisner in the quarterfinals.

Match 104: Kevin Kisner (32) def. Matt Kuchar (16), 1 up. Kuchar applied all kinds of pressure on Kisner on the back nine, but he couldn’t get Kisner to fold in the best match of the day. Kuchar was 2 down with four to go but managed to pull all square going to the last. After missing a 15-footer for birdie at the 18th, Kuchar watched Kisner sink a 12-footer for his birdie to win. Kisner will meet Ian Poulter in the quarterfinals.

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JT advances to quarters, closing in on No. 1 ranking

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 5:40 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Justin Thomas continued his impressive run at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play and finds himself another step closer to overtaking Dustin Johnson in the World Golf Ranking.

Thomas rolled past Si Woo Kim, 6 and 5, in the first knockout stage and will face Kyle Stanley in the Elite Eight. He must advance to Sunday’s championship match to overtake Johnson as the new world No. 1.

“It wasn't anything crazy or special. Just played solid golf tee to green. And it was forcing him to make a lot of putts,” said Thomas, who has played 61 holes this week, won 24, lost six and hasn’t trailed in four matches.

Stanley, who needed a playoff victory over Paul Casey on Friday to advance to the weekend, defeated Sergio Garcia, 3 and 1.

Bubba Watson also continued his solid play, rallying from an early deficit to beat Brian Harman, 2 and 1. He will play Kiradech Aphibarnrat, who defeated Charles Howell III, closing with back-to-back birdies for a 1-up victory.

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But as impressive as Thomas has been, Sweden’s Alex Noren has quietly continued to impress, going undefeated in pool play and closing out Patrick Reed on the 15th hole for a 5-and-3 victory.

“He's such a tough competitor,” said Noren, who will face Australian Cameron Smith in the quarterfinals. “I managed to hole a few birdie putts. When we both had good chances, he just missed and I managed to make those.”

Former Match Play champion Ian Poulter also advanced with a 2-and-1 victory over Louis Oosthuizen. He will play Kevin Kisner, who converted a 10-foot putt at the 18th hole to defeat Matt Kuchar, 1 up.

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Winning on Kerr's mind this week and beyond

By Randall MellMarch 24, 2018, 2:11 am

Cristie Kerr moved into position Friday to do more than win the 21st LPGA title of her career.

She moved into position to claim an LPGA Hall of Fame point this week.

Yes, winning is foremost on her mind at the Kia Classic, where she took the lead with an 8-under-par 64 in the second round, she’s on a larger quest, too.

After turning 40 last fall, Kerr was asked what her goals are.

“The Hall of Fame is attainable, if I stick with it,” she said.

Kerr is five shots ahead of Lizette Salas (67), In-Kyung Kim (69), Hee Young Park (70) and Caroline Hedwall (70).

It’s a good time for Kerr to get on a hot streak, with the year’s first major championship, the ANA Inspiration, next week. She has long been one of the best putters in the women’s game, but her ball-striking is impressive this week. She hit 17 greens in regulation Thursday, and she hit 16 on Friday.

“I like winning,” Kerr said. “I like challenging myself. Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older, with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, `Man, why does my hamstring hurt?’ From working around this hilly golf course.”

Kerr acknowledged Friday that her body is more vulnerable to time’s realities, but her mind isn’t.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

“The golf ball doesn't know an age,” Kerr said. “I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.”

Kerr won two weeks after her 40th birthday last fall, boosting her LPGA Hall of Fame point total to 22. She is five points short of eligibility for induction. A player earns one point for an LPGA victory and two points for a major championship title. So there’s a lot of Hall of Fame ground to gain this week and next.

It’s a long-term goal that motivates Kerr to take care of her body.

“I don't think the golf changes,” Kerr said. “I think, physically, it gets harder as you get older. Like I said, I've got tape on my hamstring. I strained it, just a little bit yesterday, walking around this golf course. It's tough as you get older, just being fresh and rested. I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.”