My Shot: Stacy LewisJune 4, 2013

Who Says Stacy's Shy?

The LPGA star weighs in on cellphones, 'temper freebies,' Rwanda, Lance Armstrong, perfect shots and regrowing a rib. Oh, and why you might have never heard of her if she'd had a healthy back

STACY LEWIS / AGE: 28 / PALM BEACH GARDENS, FLA.

STACY LEWIS / AGE: 28 / PALM BEACH GARDENS, FLA.

I LIKE SIGNING autographs, even the stuff that I know will wind up on eBay. I've signed some strange things. In Asia, fans love having their cellphones and iPads signed, which is bizarre. Americans are more conventional, though I signed a kid's face with a Sharpie once--after his mom granted permission. Autographs are a strange concept, though. After you get someone's signature, what do you do with it? Put it on your wall? I don't think so. I have a feeling that most autographs pretty quickly wind up in a box, which eventually moves to the garage. From there it goes to the curb.

IN KOREA, cellphones go off constantly, which is much better than a single camera going off on your downswing. It's impossible to have complete silence because cellphone cameras over there are required by law to make a noise when you press the shutter button. They did it to stop people from taking pictures up women's skirts in public. Good law.

WHEN I WAS in high school, my mom, two sisters and I signed up for the National Charity League. There were a certain number of hours moms and daughters had to put in. We made quilts for people in nursing homes and played bingo with the residents. We did some nice things for poor kids in the area. When you do things for others, the feeling stays with you. It becomes a habit. When I started having success as a pro and had some money, I felt I had to do something. I've given $100,000 to Arkansas, my alma mater. When I won the LPGA Founders Cup in March [to become No. 1 in the world], I donated $50,000 to junior golf. I've gone to Africa on a humanitarian mission. I'm not bragging this stuff up. I'm saying, try it. It'll do as much for you as the people you're helping.

I CAN AFFORD NICE THINGS but can't make myself get stuff I don't need. My friends tease me for being cheap. They point out I still drive the car I paid cash for in 2008. They tease me for not having Internet at my house and refusing to splurge on a good DirecTV package. But I'm not cheap. I'm very good at throwing out old clothes.

I GREW UP in The Woodlands, a city north of Houston that more or less was created around golf. Growing up there, golf was cool, maybe even cooler than it is now. In high school, there were more than 30 girls on our team. We had varsity and junior-varsity teams, and A, B and C teams after that. Our varsity team at The Woodlands High School was better than one of the teams I played on at the University of Arkansas, and that Arkansas team was no slouch. The Woodlands won four state championships, and six of the girls who played for us went on to play Division I golf.

I'M A BELIEVER in "temper freebies." On the last hole of a college tournament, I made triple bogey and had a little meltdown. Slammed my putter on the ground and bent it. It wasn't the first outburst for me; my mom had threatened to pull me off the course a couple of times during junior golf. Anyway, our coach at Arkansas [Kelley Hester] said, "I'm not benching you. You get one freebie." I said, "One freebie a year?" She said, "No, for your career." I kept it under wraps after that.

WHEN BETSY KING and I went to Rwanda in 2011, we spent our first night at the nicest hotel in Kigali, the capital. When we left to visit with some people and reached the outskirts of town, I saw from our car a little boy walking alongside the road. He was 3 or 4 years old and very thin. On his head he was carrying a huge bucket of water that had to weigh more than he did. He was hauling the water to his family. Betsy had warned me I'd see some tough things, but the sight of that boy was a wake-up call. As the trip progressed, I saw crushing poverty everywhere we went. But what blew me away was the happiness among the people. The contentment, and the sense of gratitude they carry for what they have, is remarkable. It's hard to describe how hard they work to survive. I came back to America with a different view of my next golf shot, travel problems and that car I supposedly was cheap about.

I'M A NUMBERS PERSON. I majored in accounting and finance at Arkansas and went there fully intending to get my degree and then get a job. Math comes easy for me; I breezed through calculus in high school and had no trouble with chemistry my freshman year in college. I carry my credit-card and frequent-flier numbers in my head. When I come in to media centers after my rounds, I remember not only my clubs but my exact yardages. I'm left-brain.

Rolex Player of the Year, 2013 Founders Cup.

Photos: Darren Carroll, Scott Halleran, Christian

Petersen; Getty Images

ONCE A ROUND LATELY, sometimes two, I'll hit the perfect shot. The kind you see in your mind before you hit the ball. It's an eerie feeling. At impact, the vibration comes up through the shaft into my hands, and I'll know the shot is great before my head comes up. It's skill, but there's always a little luck involved. My yardage will be just right, my lie will be perfect, the wind will gust exactly how I need it to, and everything comes together.

THE SAYING IS TRUE: The more you practice, the luckier you get. A good karma kicks in when you work hard. You get good bounces, and things work out. When I was penalized two strokes for my caddie, Travis Wilson, testing the condition of a bunker at the Founders Cup this year, my team--Travis especially--was upset. The penalty put me four strokes behind going into Sunday. I told them, "Hey, we've got a golf tournament to win." I knew that somehow things would work out. I won. It doesn't always go your way, of course. At the Kia Classic in March, there was a drivable par 4 where I carried the ball past everybody every day, but my ball would stop where it landed while everybody else's ball bounded onto the green. Things like that tell you it just wasn't meant to be. But most of the time, if you work hard, you'll get the good bounces.

THE BEST WAY TO LEARN is to watch good players and copy how they play their best shots. Watching Ai Miyazato play 40-yard wedge shots helped me a lot. I watched Paula Creamer and Yani Tseng with the putter. Not just their technique but their routines under pressure. Na Yeon Choi is almost automatic with the driver, and Karrie Webb is the best at managing her way around the golf course. I've tried to become sort of a blend of all the best players I've gone up against.

BEST SWING IN GOLF: Justin Rose. I could watch him all day long. The smoothness, the confidence he gives off, and the fact he never swings out of his shoes give the impression every shot is going to be perfect.

THEN THERE'S BETH DANIEL. I played with Beth in the Fore Barrow Challenge in Phoenix last December, an event where a senior LPGA player teamed with an active tour player. Beth's ball-striking was unreal. The sight--and the sound--of her long-iron shots have a quality I've never seen before. I wondered, Why is this woman not playing the tour? I asked Beth about that, and she said she no longer cared for the travel and the grind. Boy, can she hit it.

PLAY MORE than you practice. Don't be a range rat. For six months after my surgery, I couldn't bend or twist. It was short game only. But I still found a way to get better. Our assistant coach at the time, Shauna Estes-Taylor, used to come out on the course and throw balls in all kinds of unusual places around the greens and challenge me to pull off shots. It taught me creativity and improved my ability to score. You can't learn those things on the practice tee.

I HAVE SCOLIOSIS. They started treating it when I was 11. It had caused no pain, but the doctors said my backbone was eventually going to move my ribs, which in turn would press against my organs, which would make for big problems. Some people with scoliosis who do nothing about it find at age 50 they can't get out of bed. It had to be dealt with if I was going to have a life when I got older.

I WORE A BACK BRACE for 6 years. Hard plastic, three straps. It would dig into my side. During the summers I'd get rashes and red marks. My mom was a registered nurse and the enforcer. She'd catch me not wearing it and say, "Put your back brace on, Stacy." I'd yell at her and try to argue my way out of wearing it. She'd listen patiently and nod, then she'd say, "Put on the brace." There was no getting out of it. I love her for that.

WHEN I PLAYED GOLF, I got to take the brace off. I'd go to the course, take the brace off and play, then put it back on in the parking lot. Wearing the brace--or rather, being permitted to get out of it for six hours a day--was why I gravitated to golf and spent so much time at the course. If I'd had a healthy back, you might not have heard of Stacy Lewis.

I BECAME VERY SHY. Today, social media has cured a lot of shyness. There is so much bad with the good on places like Twitter, that people stop being afraid of the bad and just filter it out. That's a good thing.

THE BUMMER about the back brace was, it didn't work. When I was 18 I had surgery, a metal rod and five long screws in my vertebrae. The period immediately following the operation was horrible. I had a morphine pump, and I hit the button until no morphine was left. After a day they told me I had to sit up and walk. I said, "What?" When they propped me up, I cried. My dad couldn't take watching and listening to me; he left the room. Mom, of course, stayed. I love her for that, too.

DID YOU KNOW that if you get a rib removed, it will grow back? They took out one of my ribs, liquefied it, and injected it into the spaces created between my vertebrae when they straightened my spine. They said, "Don't worry about your missing rib; it'll grow back." And it did.

MY SWING had been on the flat side, very much "around" with a lot of rotation. I could play, but my standard ball flight was a low hook. After the operation, I couldn't twist my spine like I could before. I could turn my hips and shoulders OK, but I really couldn't torque my spine. I lifted my arms on a more upright plane. The low hook was gone, and the higher, straighter ball flight helped me a lot. I've come close to overcooking being upright and am trying to swing a little flatter.

I'M NOT BIG ON MOVIES; I don't have the patience. I like reading about people overcoming things. I enjoyed the Lance Armstrong books. I have a different view of him than most people. What he did was wrong, and I don't defend him, but I still admire him for what he accomplished. The thing is, if nobody had doped, he still would have been the best.

HARDLY ANY LPGA Tour players anchor the putter. Have you noticed that? Belly putters and long putters weren't invented to make long strokes on slow greens. And let's face it, the greens we play definitely are slower than the men's. The greens on the LPGA Tour never run at 11 or 12 on the Stimpmeter except at the majors, and sometimes not even then. Another thing is, women tour players generally are shorter than the men. Heck, I'm 5-5. We're closer to the ground. In a way, we're pre-anchored.

I'M ONLY 28, but I remember a time when I could shape shots. Now, the ball will start to draw, and then it stops drawing. The balls are almost self-correcting. And they fly a mile, even for people like me. I went to the Masters, and the distances the guys hit the ball were sick. Forget anchoring. The ball is a much bigger issue.

THE PACE OF PLAY on the LPGA Tour remains terrible. In the Sybase Match Play Championship last year, the pace was so bad in one of my matches that I asked tournament officials to put us on the clock. When a player is asking for her group to be timed, you know there's a problem. Slow play is just killing golf.

THE MOST HORRIBLE thing of all is caddies lining players up. Women tour players do it more than the men, so it gives us a bad name. It seems to be getting worse. How can lining yourself up not be a basic challenge of the game? I pride myself on my alignment. I worked hard at it.

I CAN'T OFFER women help on holding their makeup together when they play golf, because I don't wear makeup. I'm no help on fashion, either, because I'm not into clothing. I'm glad there are people who help me pick out what to wear on the course, because picking out clothing stresses me out. I've tried, but it's just not my thing.

GIVEN A CHOICE between looking beautiful at 1 p.m. or looking invincible at 6 p.m., I'll take invincible. You're talking to a girl who took out the trash and cut the grass growing up. A tomboy, basically. But I do like this dress. And the heels are nice, even if they're hard to walk in.

MY TRAINER, David Donatucci, believes that if you want to gain distance with your driver, the way to do it is to hit 300 drivers a day. He's right. I work out 90 minutes a day, and David does have me tossing the medicine ball along with some other golf-specific exercises, but they don't emulate the golf swing exactly. The best way to get "golf strong"--especially in your hands and wrists--is to hit a lot of balls.

I DID A LOT OF RUNNING when I first came on tour. I figured it would build my endurance. But I began to wonder what running three miles a day was doing for me after I'd already walked seven or eight miles on the golf course. I've chilled out on the running. All that walking is enough.

IN 2008, the year after I won the NCAA Women's Championship, I threw out the first pitch at the Arkansas baseball team's home opener. I've never been so nervous in my life; I was far more scared than I am standing over a putt to win a tournament. It's all about being in your element, right?

Photo: Scott Halleran/Getty Images

WHEN YOU'RE UNDER pressure in golf, your heart will pound, you'll sweat and maybe even shake. That's OK. Don't fight that. The trick--and I say trick because it took me years to learn--is to slow down your brain. All the physical things can race like mad, but as long as you think slowly, you'll be OK. Once you learn to control your thinking, you'll welcome the adrenaline.

THE HARDEST THING in golf is playing with a three-stroke lead. Think about it. If you play the aggressive golf that got you the lead, it takes only one ball in the water to cut the lead to one shot. On the other hand, if you play conservatively, the players behind you who are firing at flags can turn the momentum in a heartbeat. So what do you do? I've decided to play aggressively. Better to go down swinging than lose by chickening out.

BECAUSE OF MY BACK, I don't know how big a playing window I have left. The doctors don't know, either. We're in uncharted territory. [PGA Tour player] Ken Duke has rods in his back, but he's the only other tour player. The feeling is, I'm going to get after it while I can. You never know what tomorrow will bring.