SIRAK: LEWIS EMBRACES CHANGE AS A NEW MOM ON TOUR

Looking back on it now, the Marathon Classic presented by Dana is where Stacy Lewis said goodbye to her old life. It was at Highland Meadows Golf Club in Sylvania, Ohio, a year ago that Lewis played her last LPGA round before becoming a mom. She returns this week with a new set of priorities setting on top of that same old competitive desire.

With Lewis’ typical flare for the dramatic, she shot a sizzling 66 on Sunday in the final round of the 2018 Marathon to finish T-38, well behind winner Jasmine Suwannapura but with a great memory to carry with her into maternity leave. In October, Lewis and Gerrod Chadwell became parents to daughter Chesnee.

Now the precious cargo of a baby complicates the already hectic life on the road of a tour player. There have been nights of little sleep and the occasional trip to Urgent Care for typical infant distresses.

Lewis returned to the tour in January with a T-6 finish at the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions and has played well enough to be on Juli Inkster’s radar screen as a captain’s pick for the USA Solheim Cup team, that is if Stacy doesn’t play her way onto the squad.

That quest intensifies this week at Marathon as the tour enters a crucial stretch that includes back-to-back majors at the Evian Championship and the AIG Women’s British Open leading to the finalization of the American side after the CP Women’s Open on Aug. 25.

“It’s been a lot harder than I thought,” Lewis says about the adjustments to tour life as a mom. “Getting used to traveling and getting my body back in shape has taken a lot longer than I thought, but I feel like the game is moving in the right direction and we’re figuring things out on the road, how to travel, how to get through everyday, how to get through every night.”

Lewis, 34, has always been a feisty competitor, beginning with the way she overcame scoliosis as a child, which required wearing a back brace for years before eventually needing surgery. She fought her way onto the tour by winning Q school in 2008 and now has 12 wins, including majors at the 2011 ANA Inspiration and the 2013 Women’s British Open.

Now she faces an entirely different kind of challenge.

“My golf is not the No. 1 priority anymore,” Lewis says. “That is a hundred percent okay. Chesnee is my No. 1 and it’s about her eating and sleeping and doing everything in the right time and golf and me and my husband, we’re second now and that’s okay.”

Lewis has always risen to whatever challenge life throws at her, often in a dramatic way – like winning that 2008 Q school after failing to earn her card off the money list. She also won the Women’s British Open on The Old Course at St. Andrews when she hit a gorgeous links-style 5-iron on the difficult Road Hole to 5-feet that led to a birdie on No. 17 that secured the win.

And then there was the 2017 Cambia Portland Classic. Lewis, who hadn’t won a tournament in more than three years, said she would donate her winnings for the week to help the victims of Hurricane Harvey in her adopted hometown of Houston. Then she won the tournament in one of the best feel-good moments of the year in all of sports.

As she returns to Marathon, where her maternity leave started, can Lewis go full circle and make a dramatic move to get a spot on the U.S. Solheim Cup team? She’s well within striking distance of the top eight on points for an automatic spot and could still move up in the Rolex Rankings to get one of those two positions – especially with those two points-heavy majors looming.

“I just want to be playing good golf,” Lewis says about how she can prove to Inkster that she deserves one of her two picks. “I want to give Juli a reason to pick me. I’d like to make it on my own and that would be playing well these next couple majors we have.”

As is always the case with Lewis, she is all about doing the right thing. Her activism helped create the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, helped change the maternity leave policy of both the LPGA and the USGA and opened the eyes of endorsement partners of female athletes about honoring contracts during maternity leave.

“I don’t want her to pick me if I’m not playing well because I want what’s best for the team,” says Lewis, who has played in four consecutive Solheim Cups. “I want the girls to go over there and win whether I’m on the team or not. I want what’s best for the team. If I’m playing well, I want to be there.”

Lewis has showed flashes of her old form this year, finishing in the top 12 four times. She’s played well enough to be on Inkster’s mind. But Stacy has always liked to handle things herself. This just might be a week in which Mom has some more magic to thrill the sports world and completes a circle of life.