From next great American to best on LPGA

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“Here’s my take,” Daniel said. “So many American fans are looking for an American superstar so bad that when someone starts playing well, they get grabbed and offered to do outside things. To win player of the year, you have to focus on playing all year long. And there’s not a lot of American golfers that focus entirely on the golf course. They’re making money off the golf course. Stacy is one of those people who can hold her focus.”

There were high hopes for Michelle Wie, who played in the final group of an LPGA major at 13 and had a chance on the back nine to win three majors at 16. Those turned out to be her best years on the golf course. Paula Creamer won her first LPGA event before going to her high school commencement, and she starred in a U.S. win at the Solheim Cup as a teenager. But her lack of power, occasional lapses in putting and injuries have kept her from reaching the top.

How fitting that this would fall to Lewis, who is rarely anyone’s first choice.

She made her pro debut at Interlachen in 2008 at the U.S. Women’s Open and had a one-shot lead going into the final round, though all the attention was on Creamer, who was one shot behind going into a final round that wasn’t kind to either of them. Later that year, all the buzz at LPGA Q-school was Wie trying to earn her card after years of taking so many handouts. Wie made it, and it was a big story.

The footnote that day was Lewis winning the tournament by three shots.

Then again, she’s used to that.

Lewis wasn’t the best on her high school team. She had to earn her spot on the traveling squad at Arkansas, and despite winning six times her senior year, she lost out on NCAA player of the year. She played the Kraft Nabisco Championship as an amateur and tied for fifth, though no one noticed because Pressel won that year at age 18.

“At the U.S. Open I was overshadowed by Paula, and at Q-school it was even worse with Michelle,” she said. “I think I’ve always been second fiddle. I don’t know if they just don’t expect anything from me or don’t pay attention. But it fires me up when I play well and all anyone talks about is someone else. That motivates me. That’s been the story for me the whole way.”

No one can overlook her now.

It’s a big moment for American golf on the LPGA Tour. It’s a bigger moment for Lewis, a compelling story long before she became the top American.

Lewis was diagnosed with scoliosis as a kid and wore a back brace 18 hours a day for seven years to correct the curvature of her spine _ taking the brace off long enough to practice golf. When it didn’t heal properly, she had surgery after finishing high school to install a steel rod and five screws in her vertebrae. That didn’t stop her from playing at Arkansas, from winning an NCAA title, from winning an LPGA major, and now winning LPGA player of the year.

“This was not even on my mind,” Lewis said. “I was trying to win a couple of tournaments and be the top American. Everything else has been a bonus.”

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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