Li'l Texan has huge game

WES GILBERTSON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:10 AM ET

Stacy Lewis has one of those swings.

The kind that'll prompt even a low-handicapper to stop in their tracks on the practice range.

The kind you see on instructional videos.

The kind that simply screams 'Show me the money!'

That's standard fare on the LPGA Tour. What sets Lewis apart, though, is what she has overcome to get there.

"It's pretty amazing that I'm able to do what I'm doing," she admitted.

Lewis made back-to-back birdies yesterday to put the finishing touches on a 3-under 68 in the opening round of the CN Canadian Women's Open and sits four strokes off the pace.

Pretty impressive, especially when you consider it wasn't that long ago there was no guarantee the 24-year-old from The Woodlands, Tex., would be able to swing a club again.

At age 11, Lewis was diagnosed with scoliosis, a condition that causes curvature of the spine.

She wore a back brace for 18 hours a day over the next seven-and-half years, usually only removing it to work on her rapidly-improving golf game.

Just months after scoring a golf scholarship from the University of Arkansas, Lewis learned she needed major back surgery, an operation to fuse five vertebrae and insert a titanium rod and five screws in her spine.

She couldn't bend or twist for six months, but eventually was able to return to the links and recapture her swing.

"It's been quite a journey with it," she said.

"(The surgery) kind of put in perspective what I'm able to do, and it's made me a lot happier on the course.

"I wanted to practice, just because I was able to do it and it's so hard sitting and watching your teammates practice. But I also learned a lot, too."

Lewis hasn't looked back since. The pint-sized Texan won the NCAA championship in 2007 and was the No.-1 ranked amateur in the U.S. for two years.

Making her professional debut -- at a major, no less -- she finished in third spot at the 2008 U.S. Women's Open.

While teenage phenom Michelle Wie hogged the headlines at LPGA Tour Qualifying School last December, Lewis won medallist honours by three strokes.

Although she's only pocketed US$45,597 in her rookie season, Lewis has shown flashes of the skill-set that makes her another rising star to watch on the LPGA Tour.

She's also leaving her mark off the course, where she's embraced her role as a celebrity spokesperson for the Scoliosis Research Society.

Apparently, golf enthusiasts aren't the only ones impressed by that silky-smooth swing.

"It's amazing the e-mails that I get every week. I got one last week from a girl, I think she's 13 years old and she plays softball, and she looks up to me and watches what I do," Lewis said.

"I think it's a really cool part of our job that we get to inspire people and just encourage people that way."

WES.GILBERTSON@SUNMEDIA.CA

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2001 BMO FINANCIAL GROUP CANADIAN WOMEN'S OPEN

A PEEK INTO GOLF HISTORY

So long, major. Hello, Annika.

The 2001 BMO Financial Group Canadian Women's Open ushered in a new era at Angus Glen Golf Club.

With the du Maurier Classic a thing of the past due to anti-tobacco legislation, BMO became the title sponsor for the LPGA stop on Canadian soil. Too bad the loss of du Maurier gave the tour a window to take away major status from the event and give it to the Women's British Open.

On the course in Markham, Ont., Annika Sorenstam hit a 16-under 272 to edge Kelly Robbins by two strokes and take home the US$180,000 first-place cheque.


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