Birdies never meant so much to Stacy Lewis.
Every shot she hit at a flagstick Sunday, every putt she poured in at the Cambia Portland Classic did more than take her a step closer to the trophy at Columbia Edgewater Country Club.
They led to a dramatic victory that brought the promise of more help to the people suffering in her Houston hometown.
Lewis played brilliant, inspired golf breaking through to end her three-year winless spell. She won her 12th LPGA title for those suffering from the epic rainfall and deadly flooding that destroyed so many homes and businesses in Houston.
Lewis won after announcing before the tournament started that she was going to donate her winnings in Portland to the Hurricane Harvey relief effort.
Golf fans rallied behind her, cheering Lewis’ run at the $195,000 first-place check.
“We are going to be able to help people rebuild houses and get their homes back,” Lewis said. “That’s more important than any win.”
Lewis took a three-shot lead into Sunday and then held off a strong final-round charge by In Gee Chun. Lewis closed with a 3-under-par 69, finishing at 20 under for a one-shot victory over Chun (66). Lewis closed out with a two-putt par at the last.
In the end, Lewis was treated to some pleasant surprises. KPMG, one of her sponsors, announced it was going to match Lewis’ winnings in the relief effort. Also, Marathon Petroleum, yet another Lewis’ sponsor, informed her that it will be adding $1 million to her donation.
When Lewis walked off the green, her husband, Gerrod Chadwell, surprised her. He flew into Portland for the final round. She didn’t know he was there until he came out to hug her after that last putt fell.
Lewis’ family moved to suburban Houston when she was 11 years old. She grew up in The Woodlands. She and Chadwell bought a house in northeast Houston about a year-and-a-half ago.
It was spared from the ravages of the hurricane. So was her parents’ home, but she said the stories coming out of Houston moved her. She announced the day before the tournament started that she would donate her winnings from the week to the relief effort.
“When I said that, I had the goal of winning the tournament,” Lewis said. “You have to get a lot of things right, to go your way.”
Lewis said Saturday that she felt an unusual calmness as she played for Houston. She said Sunday she relinquished control to a higher power.
“Just kind of handed over control and said, `Take me, take me to the finish line. Let me know what happens, God,’” Lewis said. “It was just amazing how when you let go of the control like that how great you can play.”
Lewis was at the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open last week when forecasts grew dire in her hometown. She stayed in close contact with Chadwell, who was back at their home. He is the University of Houston women’s golf coach. Lewis followed his struggles from afar as he worked to help his players when the campus shut down. He moved the team to he and Stacy’s home, and then he kayaked with the men’s golf coach into the team facility at the flooded Golf Club of Houston, where they salvaged clubs and office equipment.
“I was fine until Gerrod showed up, and then I started crying,” Lewis said. “Just to have him here, and have him support me, the last two and a half, three years ... It's been really frustrating at times.”
Lewis, 32, has endured some frustration trying to collect her 12th LPGA title. Since winning the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship in June of 2014, she had gone 82 starts without a win. She played well in that run, stacking up 12 second-place finishes and winning more than $4 million, but she couldn’t break through to win until finding some special motivation in Portland.
“I’m excited to kind of get that monkey off my back and know I can do it, that I can hit the shots I need to and hit the putts when I need to,” Lewis said. “It’s nice to see yourself do that again.”
Lewis reigned as the Rolex world No. 1 for 25 weeks over portions of the 2013 and ’14 seasons. She was twice the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year, but that didn’t make her winless spell any easier. Lewis said her husband helped her deal with it.
“You go through all the emotions of finishing second when sometimes it's your fault and sometimes it's not, and things just don't seem to ever go your way and you get really frustrated at times,” Lewis said. “Gerrod went through all of that with me, and it was probably as hard on him as it was on me. So just to have him here and get to share the win with him was pretty special.”