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During Lewis's redshirt year, while her back healed, all she could do was chip and putt, and it shows in one of the purest strokes in golf. She used that time off in another important way. "She became like a little assistant coach," says Hester. "She would stand with the coaches watching the team play and say, 'Well, that is so stupid. Why'd she do that?' It furthered her golf education."
Lewis's ongoing success on the greens is a blend of art and science. To sharpen her feel she does a drill in which she hits a long lag putt into open space on the practice green, away from any target. Without peeking to see where the putt ends up, Lewis then drops another ball, closes her eyes and tries to hit the second ball to the same spot. "No exaggeration, 90 percent of the time the two balls are within three or four inches," says Hallett.
This delicate touch has been married to a cutting-edge system of reading greens. AimPoint is familiar to golf fans for supplying those snazzy graphics on Golf Channel telecasts that show the break of any given putt, but AimPoint is also a green-reading system that Lewis began using in 2011. She uses the sensation in her feet—and in practice rounds, a digital level—to determine the slope of the green, then factors in the distance of a putt and the angle at which she is putting across the slope. Crunching these numbers in her head gives her an exact number of inches a given putt will break. "Reading greens used to be a problem for me," Lewis says. "Now I have so much confidence in the read, I'm freed up to try to make every putt."
AimPoint founder Mark Sweeney says some 30 female pros have recently come to him to learn the secrets of his technology, including Tseng and world No. 2 Na Yeon Choi. "It's all because of Stacy," says Sweeney. "But not only does she have a big head start, she has a very analytical mind and a technically perfect putting stroke. So...." He's too polite to say that it won't be easy for the competition to cut into Lewis's advantage on the greens.
The relentless quest to be the best has pushed Lewis into unfamiliar territory: She's a favorite to win every time she tees it up. This is a paradigm shift for a young woman who wore a back brace between junior tournaments, who wasn't the best player on her high school team, who was snubbed for the Curtis Cup as a college sophomore and as a national player of the year as a senior. "I've always been the underdog, which I kind of liked," Lewis says.
The heightened expectations were her undoing last month at the Honda LPGA Thailand, where she took a three-stroke lead into the weekend. Lewis's temper was once volcanic; she has mellowed through the years, but her cheeks still redden when she's grinding on the course. In Thailand she looked flushed all weekend as she faded to a tie for third. "I was trying to force a victory to happen," she says. "I was thinking about the wrong things, and it affected me."
The next week she went to Singapore with one goal: "I wanted to be patient, which isn't my forte." She beat Choi by a stroke with a gritty Sunday performance. "I'm still learning. I'm still growing, which is exciting," Lewis says.
Those closest to her marvel at Lewis's metamorphosis. "The whole thing is like a fairy tale, to be honest," says Hester. "Stacy worked hard at golf, but it never came easy for her. Then the stuff with her back? If she can grow up to be player of the year, anyone can do it."
Back in Little Rock, at the Hall of Fame gala, Dale Lewis was reflective as he watched his little girl pose for photos with her fellow inductees. "It's pretty unbelievable," he said. "I guess the question is where she goes from here." At that moment Stacy was onstage, glowing in the bright lights. The guess here is this won't be her last Hall of Fame ceremony.