It won’t be hard to find Stacy Lewis at Pinnacle Country Club this week – just head in the direction of the Woo Pig Sooie chants.
The former Arkansas Razorback is back near her alma mater this week, and T-shirts with “I love Stacy” have been making the rounds. The first batch sold out, so they printed some more. But if the crowds following Lewis last year are any indication, those will inevitably sell out too.
“I don’t think there’s any other place on Tour that supports someone individually like this tournament supports me. There’s no one else that has it,” Lewis said. “It’s definitely an honor, it’s such a cool thing. The players joke that they always know where I am on the golf course judging by the hog calls and where all the fans are.”
Lewis just left a major championship, where she finished runner up, but says this week might be more pressure packed for her. It’s essentially a “sixth major” for Lewis. Year after year No. 17 – perhaps the loudest hole in golf - gets a massive crowd when Lewis is near. When Lewis comes down the fairway in front of the green, the hands go up, the fingers wiggle back and forth and the trademark “Woo” gets started in unison like it would for kickoff at a Razorback football game. It’s Lewis’ favorite spot on the course, and it gets bigger and bigger each year of the tournament’s existence.
“We don’t have that anywhere else on Tour and just the way the fans get into it here and the crowds that we get. I love the 17th hole,” Lewis said. “But at the same time, probably the best part for me is just getting back and able to see friends and see a lot of people that I don’t normally get to see when I’m on the road. It’s nice to really come to a play that was home for a long time.”
It’s weird to say for the No. 1 player in the world, but Lewis has never sought the limelight. She always just wanted to play the best golf she could, and the spotlight was an unintended byproduct. Nowhere does it shine brighter on her than when she’s home in Arkansas.
“It’s something that I do have to prepare myself for, it’s not something that comes to me naturally. You have to have some patience with it, just going places and being recognized,” she said. “Sometimes you just want to sit there and have dinner and not worry about it, but that’s just not the case here this week at least for me. I’m just trying to be patient with it but at the same time enjoy it because nobody else on Tour gets what I get here.”
Coming back for the first time as the No. 1 player in the world, Lewis was recently named to the University of Arkansas Hall of Fame and is now being thrown into the conversation as the greatest player ever to come out of Arkansas with John Daly.
“It’s an honor because, like I said, I didn’t come here to break records or set records or do anything like that. I just came here to get an education and play golf,” she said. “Everything that I’ve gotten to do along the way has been such a blessing, and I don’t think it would have happened if I had gone to school anywhere else.”
Lewis is still incredibly immersed in the program. She serves as a volunteer assistant for the women’s golf team and will play practice rounds with rising junior Gabby Lopez and recently-turned pro Emily Tubert of the Arkansas team this week. She had her former coach, Shauna Estes-Taylor, up to the U.S. Women’s Open last week to help her with her short game and hang out for the week. Her old coach is a short-game guru and had been there last summer when Lewis won the Women’s British Open and was there when Lewis birdied her final two holes Sunday to put pressure on Wie coming in. Although Wie ended up closing her out with a clutch birdie on 17, Lewis was there to give her a hug coming off the green – a move that received a ton of praise from commentators for its class and dignity.
“To go out there and congratulate her, that’s what I would do for any of my friends, whether it’s Michelle or whoever it is. Any of my friends, they win, I’m going out there to congratulate them,” Lewis said. “It was kind of strange that people thought it was so cool that I went and did that. That’s just me, that’s who I am.”
Wie has become one of her good friends since Lewis moved to Jupiter. They have the same trainer and play golf together when they are both home. If Lewis couldn’t win, she was glad it was Wie, and the moment wasn’t lost on her of what it could potentially do for the Tour.
“I stood there on 18 kind of just taking in the scene when Michelle was finishing, and it was one of the coolest things I think I’ve ever seen. Just to think about how many millions of people were watching us, having probably the biggest star on our tour winning on the biggest stage in golf. I mean, we couldn’t have asked for a better week,” Lewis said. “Just the way it kind of got close there at the end and made Michelle work for it, it was great TV.”