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Lewis no longer afraid of the spotlight

Success has put defending ShopRite Classic champ Stacy Lewis in forefront of the LPGA Tour.

There was a time, not that long ago, when Stacy Lewis would have rather tried to hit a ball out of buried lie in a bunker with a driver than answer even a few innocuous questions. (Steve Helber/AP)
There was a time, not that long ago, when Stacy Lewis would have rather tried to hit a ball out of buried lie in a bunker with a driver than answer even a few innocuous questions. (Steve Helber/AP)Read more

GALLOWAY, N.J. - There was a time, not that long ago, when Stacy Lewis would have rather tried to hit a ball out of buried lie in a bunker with a driver than answer even a few innocuous questions.

Then she became the LPGA 2012 Player of the Year, the first American to do that in 18 seasons. And in March, she made it to No. 1 in the world rankings, where she stayed for 4 weeks. Just like that, her world had been transformed.

It's tough to remain shy once you're one of the faces of your profession.

"I think about a year and a half ago, I approached the LPGA communications team and said, 'Help me,' " recalled Lewis, who yesterday was at Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club, where on May 31-June 2 she'll try to defend her LPGA ShopRite Classic title. "I wasn't as comfortable in front of the cameras as I needed to be. I've kind of grown into this role. I don't know if they knew what was coming or what the deal was. But I just feel like I'm so much more prepared for it. I don't mind doing interviews every day."

The new, higher profile also makes it harder to, well, just be herself out in the public on an everyday basis.

"I am recognized a lot more," acknowledged Lewis, who this year has added two victories (and five other top 10s in nine starts) to her four wins from last season. "It's a little strange to go out to the CVS or Walgreens, or whatever it is, just picking up dry cleaning. You realize you kind of have to be 'on' all the time. I'm always Stacy Lewis the golfer. It's definitely different. I'm slowing getting used to it."

It's not always a bad thing.

"In Texas a few weeks ago, I was playing with [the very popular] Paula [Creamer]," Lewis continued. "I signed autographs for at least 30 minutes after the round. There were kids everywhere. It was so cool, stepping out of the shadow a little bit."

Another compelling feature of her story is that she's succeeded after a childhood bout with scoliosis. Beginning at age 11, Lewis had to wear a back brace 18 hours a day for 7 1/2 years to correct curvature in her spine, removing it only when she golfed. She underwent back surgery her senior year of high school, then made All-America four consecutive times at Arkansas after redshirting as a freshman. She turned 28 in February. Since then, she's appeared live on ESPN's "SportsCenter" (a rarity for an LPGA player), taped a show on CNN with a doctor talking about her disease, been a guest of David Feherty's on the Golf Channel and did a photo shoot for Golf Digest. Nothing shy about it.

"It's been busy," Lewis acknowledged. "We're doing all kinds of things to promote our tour. It happens so fast. For about 3 weeks when the [2012] season was over, I was all over the place. Doing interviews, making appearances, all kinds of stuff. I didn't sit down. I've haven't been home in 5 weeks. It comes with the territory . . . Around Christmas, I finally got to step back and enjoy what I did, realize how big it was. I was nervous about how I was going to come out and play [this year]. The way I looked at it was, just keep it going."

It helps if you don't forget who you are and what's important in your life.

So when Superstorm Sandy ravaged the Jersey Shore last October, Lewis was in Japan playing in an tournament. She saw the pictures of devastation on TV. Her first thought was to help. She just didn't know how. So she talked to her parents and agents, and they decided the best thing to do was donate $20,000 to the Food Bank of South Jersey, a gesture she did not make public. But she was honored yesterday for those efforts. Not that she wanted the attention.

"I saw what was going on, and that's part of me," she explained. "I just wanted to say thank you, for supporting us. I could remember walking around down there on the boardwalk. I couldn't imagine being in that situation. Being across the world, I couldn't volunteer to come. We did some research. I think it worked out perfect. ShopRite was able to donate food. Where this helped is, they needed cash to pay for trucks, gas, to get the food out there. I just wanted to do something that would make an impact, help them get through the first few weeks."

Lewis is now No. 2 on the LPGA Tour, behind South Korea's Inbee Park, who's won three times this year. But she's still easily the highest-ranked American, ahead of No. 10 Cristie Kerr and No. 11 Creamer, the only others in the top 15. The LPGA needs more of them to help rekindle interest in women's golf in this country. Maybe, if we're lucky, Lewis' best is yet to come. So keep smiling for those cameras.

"I'm that kid that had the door slammed so many times," Lewis said. "To keep fighting through that taught me perseverance. You can't quit. I'm the same on the golf course.

"I think everybody has hard things they go through, different things. Different levels. I just hope this shows it's possible. I mean, who would think that someone with a rod and screws attached to the spine would be doing what I am? It doesn't make any sense, but it's happening."

Any more questions?