EDMONTON - In a quicksilver sport where a player hits every green on Saturday then can't find the fairway on Sunday, Stacy Lewis has become the closest thing to a sure thing.
The 28-year-old Texan with the fire-red Arkansas Razorback club cover hopes to follow up a recent win at the British Open with another this weekend at the CN Canadian Women's Open.
The five-foot-five player from The Woodlands, near Houston, has finished in the top-10 in 12 of her 18 tournaments this year - including three wins.
Tour leader Inbee Park and third-ranked Suzann Pettersen are distant seconds at eight apiece.
"Leading top-10s has been a goal of mine the last few years," Lewis said Wednesday in the final day of practice at the Royal Mayfair Golf Club.
"My rookie year I would play great one week, then miss the cut the next - and that was the most frustrating thing in the world to me."
"I wanted to get to where I was consistently making cuts, and now it's consistently top-20s, top-10s, and giving myself a chance to win."
Lewis is also No. 1 in scoring average (69.788), rounds under par (48) birdies per round (4.58), and in holes under par (4.71 per round).
Her strength, said her college coach Shauna Estes-Taylor, is her approach to the game.
She plays the course rather than letting the course play her, said Estes-Taylor in an interview.
While a certain tee shot may be the best shot by the book to set up the ball to par a hole, Lewis won't necessarily hit the ball there, she said.
Instead, Lewis may try to put it somewhere else to give her the best chance with her skills to go for the green on the second.
"(Lewis) knows where she is limited and always plays to her strengths," said Estes-Taylor.
"She is a very intelligent player."
Estes-Taylor's history with Lewis goes back a decade to 2003, when Stacy Lewis' scoliosis was slowly and unmercifully twisting her spine to the point her career looked to be in the ditch before it began.
Diagnosed as a child with the disease, Lewis had to wear a back brace every waking hour of the day from age 11 on.
It was made of hard plastic with three straps - a made-to-order shell of misery that would bind her movement and give her skin ugly red rashes in the summer.
Sometimes it was too much and she would take it off.
"Put you brace on!" her mother Carol would tell her.
"I don't wanna," she would reply, but she would eventually put it on.
She learned to love golf because golf meant freedom from the back brace.
With the encouragement of her dad Dale and her grandfather Al her game took off to the point she won a scholarship in 2003 to the University of Arkansas.
Then came cruel irony: being freed up from the back brace allowed her to develop her game to the point Arkansas came calling. But not wearing the brace contributed to her back deteriorating to the point surgery was no longer an option; it was a necessity.
She hit the operating table at 18 in the summer of 2003. Doctors deflated her lungs, moved some organs around, and inserted a titanium rod and five screws in her spine.
For weeks after she would cry with the pain, squeezing her morphine pump dry as she learned to walk all over again.
Arkansas had committed to Stacy. She red-shirted her freshman year and went to work with Estes-Taylor, then the program's assistant golf coach and now its No. 1 instructor.
Lewis couldn't pound the driver while her back rehabbed, so instead they focused on her short game. Hour after hour. Putt. Chip. Putt. Chip, turning Lewis into a national-level player.
"(Estes-Taylor) was the one who would put me on the side of a hill and make me get up and down. She kind of created that creative side to me," said Lewis.
Often the coach would have to order the student to put the iron down to avoid overdoing it.
"It was always (Stacy asking for) more, more, more. Let me hit one more," said Estes-Taylor.
Lewis went on to star in college, winning 12 NCAA tournaments and being named national champion in 2007.
Now in her sixth year as a pro, she won four times in 2012 to capture the LPGA player of the year award. For a brief time in March of this year, she was No. 1 in the Rolex rankings.
Estes-Taylor continues to help out, coaching Lewis's mental approach to the game.
"I may win a golf tournament but she's always helping me find ways to even get better for the next one," said Lewis.
"I wouldn't be where I am without her."
Lewis comes back to the university every year to help coach the students. Last year she donated $100,000 to the institution.
Earlier this month Estes-Taylor was at the historic Old Course at St. Andrews, Scotland, when Lewis won the Women's British Open.
Estes-Taylor was greenside on 18 when the victorious Lewis walked off to hug her.
"It was one of the proudest moments in my career, if not the greatest golfing experience of my life," said Estes-Taylor.
Their conversation, said Estes-Taylor, was short, the crowds around them cheering.
"How about that!" said Lewis.
"I know. It's awesome," Estes-Taylor replied.
Lewis said there was more to it: "I told her when I hugged her, 'This one's for you."'
BEST GOLFER IN THE WORLD: If you go to Stacy Lewis' official website (StacysBack.com), the banner that reads "The Next Great American Golfer" has been scratched out and replaced by the words "The Best Golfer in the World".
Lewis, currently the No. 2 ranked LPGA player in the world, admits even she was taken aback by the website's original proclamation.
"When I first turned pro my agent did my website and they put that title on there and I saw it, and I didn't really think that of myself, so I said they must think that of me. Should I be thinking this of myself?" said Lewis ahead of Thursday's opening round at the CN Canadian Women's Open.
"When I turned pro I wasn't on those lines at all, but it made me kind of think, I have people here that believe in me. I have people that believe I can be the top American player."
"It was really cool for them to support me like that and kind of put that thought in my head. Then when I got to No. 1 in the world, they decided to scratch out the next part of it."
Lewis claimed the No. 1 ranking following her win at the LPGA Founders Cup earlier this year in Arizona. She was eventually overtaken by Inbee Park in early April after the South Korean claimed the first of what would be three straight majors to start the year.
MODERN DAY INSPIRATION: The story of how Lewis overcame scoliosis, which required her to wear a brace for 18 hours a day for almost seven years, to become an NCAA champion and a seven-time winner on the LPGA Tour has been well documented. It's an inspirational story that several of Canada's top amateur players singled out as a reason why Lewis is among their modern day role models.
But its a story that Lewis admits she was reluctant to tell until she realized the impact it was having on others who turned to her for inspiration.
"When I first came on Tour, I didn't want to talk about it a lot," Lewis explained on Wednesday. "I didn't understand why everybody wanted to know about my back. I wanted to be known as a good golfer.
"The better I played, the more I realized that people are drawing inspiration just by me playing golf. It didn't matter how good I played or just the fact that I was teeing it up every week, people are drawing inspiration from that. It's always going to be a part of me. It goes with me wherever I go.
"I had, I think my agent said, 15 to 20 requests last week at Solheim for a one on one sit down meeting with kids which, obviously, I didn't have time to do, but that's how big it's gotten. I get it, because at that age you want somebody who has been through what you've been through. You want somebody to say it's going to be okay. That's what I try to do. Whether it's writing them a letter or I get emails from parents asking questions. It's really become a big deal."
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