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Swikar Patel | The Journal Gazette
Stacy Lewis places the ball to putt Monday during the Mad Anthony Charity Classic.

Beating the odds, big time

– The Golfer or The Story?

No matter in what town or on which continent Stacy Lewis tees it up (Monday, it was Fort Wayne), the subject matter will usually be one or the other; The Golfer or The Story? The Triumph or The Tragedy?

“I’ve learned to embrace it. It’s never going to go away,” Lewis says an hour before she rocketed her first drive off the No. 1 tee in the Mad Anthonys Charity Classic for Children at Sycamore Hills. “Every time I tell my story again, somebody else that hasn’t heard it hears it and is inspired by it, so it’s worth it to me. It’s part of who I am and I’ve learned it’s not going to go away. I just need to embrace it.”

And so she has.

Regardless where the tour pauses in chunks of four days, the 27-year-old Lewis will be asked to tell her story one more time. And then once more. And then once more again.

The Story, in essence, is this: During a school examination when she was 11 years old, it was discovered that she had scoliosis, which is an extreme deformity of the spine. For 7 1/2 years, she was confined to a back brace 18 hours a day, even as she slept. The only time she didn’t wear it was when she pursued her passion of golf.

By the time she reached high school, she had become one of the nation’s premiere players, and earned a scholarship to attend the University of Arkansas.

Just when she thought that her back had improved, she was told she needed corrective surgery – a single rod with five screws. That forced her into the back brace once more for three months, and then another six months of rehabilitation.

Not only did she return to play at Arkansas, she posted 12 NCAA wins, including the 2007 NCAA individual title. That led to a place on the Curtis Cup amateur team, which played at the Old Course at St. Andrews. There, she became the first player in Curtis Cup history to go 5-0 in competition.

The Story continues, of course. She joined the LPGA Tour in 2008 and has won three tournaments – twice this year. With $857,000 in earnings in 2012, she is second on the LPGA money list, and is the highest-ranking American player.

“I always go into events and into years with no expectations, because then you’re always pleasantly surprised,” Lewis said. “I’ve played really well this year, though. I set some goals at the beginning of the year and I’ve already blown those out of the water.”

But then that’s been part of The Stacy Lewis Story all along, hasn’t it? Blowing expectations out of the water.

“I would say that everything I went through – wearing the brace and surgery – has made me who I am, even the type of golfer I am,” Lewis said. “I went through a lot. I had a lot of disappointments of you’re going to have back surgery and all these things. I had so many setbacks that I had to overcome it.”

There was a bit of a pause there, just to find the right thought, the right word.

“Get my back against the wall and I’m going to find a way out,” she said. “That’s how I play golf. That’s how I live my life.”

Quite the story.

Quite the golfer.

Steve Warden is a writer for The Journal Gazette and has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1969. He can be reached by email stwarden@jg.net; phone, 461-8477; or fax 461-8648. To discuss this column or others he has written recently, go to the “Sports” topic of “The Board” at www.journalgazette.net.

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