Stacy Lewis with her trophy
All eyes were set on Rolex Rankings No.1 Inbee Park this week at St. Andrews hoping to catch a glimpse of history at the RICOH Women’s British Open. But it was the No. 2 player in the world who ended up stealing the headlines.
American Stacy Lewis shot a final-round, even-par 72 at the famed Old Course to win her second-career major championship with a two-shot victory over South Koreans Na Yeon Choi and Hee Young Park. Lewis birdied the 71st and 72nd holes of the tournament to move her to 8-under par which proved to be the winning score.
"We're at the home of golf,” said Lewis. “To end birdie-birdie is amazing. It's been a perfect day."
The victory is Lewis’ second major win and first since the 2011 Kraft Nabisco Championship which was also the last time an American claimed a major title. The win snapped a streak of 10 winless majors for the United States.
“I'm pretty excited about that,” said Lewis. “I guess it was the longest stretch we've ever had for an American gap; I don't know if that's for sure. But we get asked about it. I got asked about it this week. Every major, we get asked about it, and it definitely gets old, so more than anything, you guys can't ask me the question for awhile.”
Katherine Hull-Kirk finished as the leading Aussie in a tie for 22nd place while Lindsey Wright finished in a tie for 59th and Sarah Kemp finished in 68th of the Aussies to make the cut.
The win earned Lewis 120 U.S. Solheim Cup Team points, helping her finish first in the U.S. points race with 977 points. She’ll be making her second appearance at the biennial team event in two weeks at the Colorado Golf Club in Parker, Colo. Eight Americans finished this week in the top-20.
“It's nice just to be playing well going into the Solheim Cup and see Morgan is playing well, Paula is playing well and to see the American flag up on the board has definitely been a lot of fun this week,” said Lewis.
Lewis started her day on Sunday with a 4:30 a.m. wake up call and had 36 holes to play after tournament play was suspended on Saturday due to high winds. She got off to solid start, shooting a 3-under 69 for her third round score, and began the final round one shot off third-round leader and fellow American Morgan Pressel.
But it wasn’t smooth sailing for the reigning Rolex Player of the Year. She had to grind through an up-and-down final round that included five birdies and five bogeys. It was a rough start for Lewis, as she went 2-over-par through the first five holes after dropping shots on Nos. 2 and 4.
The 28-year old was playing five groups in front of Na Yeon Choi, who proved to be Lewis’ biggest challenger of the day. Choi made the turn at 8-under par while Lewis picked up her second-consecutive bogey on the par 4 12th hole to drop to 6-under. Choi then carded her third birdie of the round on No. 10 to extend her lead to three shots over Lewis.
But the back nine at the Old Course proved to be quite the test for the players throughout the week and was the perfect challenge for those trying to close out on a high note. Choi found herself in trouble midway through the back nine and had some added pressure mounted on her when she took a look at the leaderboard
“I watched it a little bit because I thought I was leading and then after two bogeys, I thought, I have to check, so I checked the leaderboard,” said Choi. “It was okay, but like after a couple holes later, Stacy went up, and I think I got a little pressure when I check the leaderboard.”
Choi picked up back-to-back bogeys on Nos. 13 and 14 just as Lewis hit a miraculous second shot into the par 4 17th green to within three feet of the hole. She sank the putt for a two-shot swing and a share of the lead as she headed to Tom Morris, the famous 18th hole at St. Andrews.
“I hit the perfect golf shot (on 17),” said Lewis. “I mean, that was the shot I saw the shot in my head, but to actually pull it off, when it counts, it doesn't a shot like that doesn't happen very often. So I knew after I hit it close, I was like, all right, I have to make this putt; somehow this putt was going to go in, because the shot was so good.”
After striping her drive to within 40 yards of the green on 18, Lewis and her caddie, Travis Wilson, decided to go with her putter for her second shot.
“Travis, he didn't even give me a number,” said Lewis. We were playing something on the ground, we never even thought about flying anything up there…So, you know, right away Travis said, ‘Why don't you putt it.’ And actually in the practice round, I threw some balls down there and hit some putts from there. I knew it was possible. As soon as he felt confident with the putter, it made me even more confident with it, because I think that was the only shot from where I was that you could get it somewhat close.”
Lewis whacked it 20 feet past the hole and worked on some memories from 2008 when she went 5-0 at the Old Course in the Curtis Cup.
“I remember one of my matches in Curtis Cup, the pin was in that similar place, and I remember having a putt back up the hill and leaving it short,” said Lewis. “So that's kind of the mistake there is to not get the put to the hole, because you say the swale on the other side, you think it's downhill but it's actually back up the hill.
“So I had a little bit of knowledge there, and that whole right half of the green doesn't break as much as you think,” said Lewis. “It's kind of a visual thing with the other side of the green. I knew what that putt did. The hardest part was just getting it to the hole. Right off the face, it looked pretty good, and it was pretty cool when it went in.”
Finishing out on a high note, Lewis still had to wait for Choi to finish out her last three holes. Choi didn’t do herself any favors after finding trouble in the deep rough on the 17th hole. She chipped to six feet but pushed her par putt to drop two shots behind Lewis. She failed at holing out from the fairway on the 18th and the title was Lewis’. The Woodlands, Texas native said the win ranks high in her career accomplishment and isn’t sure she has ever finished a tournament in the fashion she did today.
“It's up there with the Kraft, for sure,” said Lewis. “The finish might be even be better than the Kraft truthfully. I made a pretty good putt at the Kraft, too. 17 must be my hole for some reason. It might be ahead of the Kraft. To make those two birdies on 18, that's probably the hardest hole location we had all week there. And to birdie 17, any day, is good, let alone the final round of a major.”