WATERLOO, Ont. — The only thing hotter than Stacy Lewis heading into the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic is the scorching heat wave that has gripped southern Ontario.
Temperatures on Wednesday soared past 30 C and the hot, humid conditions were to remain in the forecast through to Friday. That means weather could be a huge factor when the LPGA Tour’s first tournament stop in Canada begins Thursday at the Grey Silo Golf Course.
Lewis, ranked second on the LPGA Tour’s money list and first in the Rolex Player of the Year rankings, is taking four consecutive top-five finishes, including two wins, into the inaugural event.
The 27-year-old Ohio native is finding it hard to comprehend the streak she’s been on since late April.
“It’s pretty cool,” she said. “It’s crazy to think that just a couple of months ago I was pretty far behind Yani (Tseng, ranked No. 1 on the money list and now second in the Rolex ranking).
”I’ve played some really good golf the last couple of weeks and it’s been fun, but I have to keep doing it. I want to be on top of that list in November.”
But beating the heat won’t be Lewis’s only worry. On the links-style, 6,354-yard Waterloo course, the wind will also be a factor.
Gusts on Wednesday during the pro-am changed how the course played during Tuesday’s practice rounds. Some water applied by the grounds crew softened the greens and fairways.
“It’s definitely a bomber’s course,” said Lewis, who is ranked 21st on the tour for driving distance. ”If you hit it far you can carry some bunkers and have a lot of wedges in to the green.
“I think length is a definite advantage on this course, but the greens are pretty tough. There’s a lot of little humps and bumps in them and they’re tough to read, and the main thing on this course is the wind. If the wind blows it plays completely different.”
What the rest of the field should fear is having to face a rested Lewis. After finishing first at the Shoprite Classic at the start of the month and second at the Wegman’s Championship two weeks ago, Lewis admitted she was exhausted and spent two days on the beach.
With a week off in between tournaments, she’s ready to go.
”It all caught up to me in this last week so I just spent most of the time relaxing and getting ready for these next couple,” she said.
While Lewis pinpointed her putting as the best part of her game right now, she said her confidence is riding high in every event she plays.
”I think when I won in Mobile,” which started her streak of top-five starts, ”it’s knowing you can get up on that tee and you can win. You’re not just playing to make a cut or to hopefully finish in the top 10, you’re there to win the golf tournament and that’s a completely different mindset knowing you can do that.”
Playing so well has also made her the person to beat on tour and the new face of the LPGA. The added attention hasn’t phased her.
”I’m still the same person, I’m still going out there and working hard, but I don’t know if it’s really quite hit home yet,,” she said. ”I know I’m the top American but I don’t know if I still quite believe it myself.”
Lewis believes it’s going to take a low score to solidify top spot in the Rolex rankings and keep her streak going.
”The par 5s are reachable, the par 4s, for someone who hits it far, you have wedges on over half of the holes,” she said. ”You’re going to have to make a ton of birdies, probably four- or five-under a day, and you’ll be in good shape.”
Tournament director Richard Kuypers is hoping a mixture of weather will settle over Grey Silo so players experience the course in different conditions. He said the warmth and wind will definitely affect scores.
Changes to the course prior to the tournament should also prove to be a challenge.
”We tightened the fairways, made the course play firmer and faster, and re-routed the holes for better spectator viewing,” he said.
Besides the big names, such as Lewis and Paula Creamer in the field, Kuypers is pleased to see nine Canadians tee up in Waterloo. Canadians in the Manulife Classic are Charlottetown’s Lorie Kane, Hamilton’s Alena Sharp, Jessica Shepley of Okaville, Ont., Maude-Aimee Leblanc of Sherbrooke, Que., Stephanie Sherlock of Barrie, Ont., Rebecca Lee-Bentham of Richmond Hill, Ont., Calgary native Samantha Richdale, and amateurs Jennifer Kirby of Paris, Ont., and Lindsey Smith of London, Ont.
He noted they’re happy to see another event on their home turf.
”They think it’s a long time overdue, they are very happy to be able to come back home one more time to play every year,” he said.