13 December 2008

Stacy Lewis swings for '09 LPGA card

Stacy Lewis failed to win enough money in LPGA-sponsored events in 2008, so she is at Q School trying to earn full-time playing status. "There's a lot at stake," she said. "But ... it's not like I'm never going to play golf again."

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Less than six months ago, Stacy Lewis stunned galleries and her foes with a 6-under-par 67 to take a one-shot lead into the U.S. Women's Open final round at Interlachen Country Club in Minnesota.

All of 23 and just 19 days after turning professional, Lewis charmed the news media with her candor, displayed poise and grit beyond her years on the course and flaunted a putting stroke the envy of all. Although the former NCAA individual champion from the University of Arkansas stumbled to a fourth-round 78 to finish in a tie for third, NBC TV golf analyst Johnny Miller, no less, labeled Lewis the next LPGA superstar.

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Her ascension to such heights, however, ran into a slight detour that has taken her this week to the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament. The $162,487 she won in the Open did nothing in her attempt to secure full-time playing rights on the LPGA tour, because the Open is not an LPGA co-sponsored event.

Given six LPGA tour events she could play the rest of the year as a non-LPGA member in hopes of winning roughly $120,000 to earn her 2009 tour card, Lewis came up $35,000 short. So she had to book a trip to Florida to go through the rigors of Q School, where only 20 of the 140 players in the field beginning today at LPGA International will earn full-time playing rights on the tour for next season.

FIND MORE STORIES IN: Florida | Texas | Minnesota | University of Arkansas | Johnny Miller | Stacy Lewis | LPGA International | Interlachen Country Club | Kapalua LPGA Classic | Q School | Legends Course | non-LPGA | LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament
"It's definitely frustrating," said Lewis, who would have finished 59th on the money list if the Open currency had counted. "I competed with the best players in the world (in the Open), so knowing that I can compete with the top players helps.

"Playing in six other events helps, too. And I feel like I have been play-ing in qualifying school every week, basically.

"There's a lot at stake. But it's not life or death. It's not like I'm never going to play golf again. I've had that before."

Lewis spent more than seven years wearing a brace-like corset 18 hours a day after being diagnosed with scoliosis, a curvature of the spine, at the age of 11. But during her senior year in high school in 2003, she was told she needed surgery, and doctors had to fuse a rod and five screws into her back to straighten her spine.

When told she needed surgery, Lewis said she thought her golf-playing days were over. But she slowly returned to the course, and an outstanding collegiate career followed.

And she's in a good place right now despite being at Q School. Rested and eager after practicing three weeks in Texas, she also can call on good vibes from the fact she won her NCAA championship on the Legends Course, one of two courses in play this week at LPGA International.

And her back is just fine.

"I'm just ready to play," said Lewis, who last played in a tournament in October when she tied for sixth in the Kapalua LPGA Classic. "I just want to play. I feel good about my game, and it's good to be back."

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