Little Stacy Lewis, as a child, squeezed as much golf as she could into every one of her days. That was not because she was set on being a major champion or the No. 1 women's player in the world. It was because when she was playing golf, she was allowed to get out of the hard plastic back brace she had to wear for 6 1/2 years.
"I always say that if I had not gone through what I did as a kid, I would not be doing this right now. My back and everything I went through made me the person that I am,'' said Lewis, now 28, who overcame scoliosis to become a major champion, the top-ranked American woman player and, for a while earlier this year, the No. 1 female player in the world.
"It made me want to fight. It made me have the chip on my shoulder. It made me want to work hard. I mean, no kid in the world should go through what I did. I'm grateful that it happened to me. But at the time, it was pretty bad," she said.
At the time, it made her love to play golf, and that really has made her what she is today, heading into the U.S. Women's Open at Sebonack Golf Club intensely determined.
"The U.S. Open weighs on me probably more than anything just because of how poorly I've played there,'' she said. "But I feel like my game is made for majors. I think it's just kind of a matter of time.''
Then again, even that is not totally who Lewis is. She can be impetuous but also patient, having had back surgery when she was 18 because, after all those years, it turned out the brace didn't work. After the surgery, she had to deal with the uncertainty of ever playing again.
She can be both strong and vulnerable at the same time, like the occasion on which she had to prevail on her father last year to take a lesser role in her career. "It was a conversation that needed to happen,'' she said recently. "I said, 'Dad, you need to take a step back. I don't want you to be my manager. I don't want you to be my swing coach. I don't want you to be my caddie. I just want you to be my dad. I want you to be there to give me a hug when I'm done, whether I've won or I've lost.'''
Her father was the most emotional person in the room when she told that story at the LPGA awards ceremony, having been honored as Player of the Year.
Lewis' life arc, with its dips and peaks, has taught her that good can come out of bad, and that someone else's life can be better because of you. When she was a teenager, she signed up for the National Charity League along with her mom and two sisters. They visited nursing homes, helped underprivileged children. The golfer took that to another level in 2010, months before her major victory at the 2011 Kraft Nabisco, when she went on a charitable mission to Rwanda.
"The better you play, the more you can help other people. That's what I really took away from it,'' she said. "I don't play for the money. I play to win tournaments. So all this money and stuff was kind of strange to me. It gave me this purpose that I can help kids with scoliosis, I can help Sandy victims. We're put on this pedestal where we can go out and help other people.''
You could say Lewis is predisposed to look at things differently because her golf story is backward from many others. Normally, someone plays so much golf that they injure their back. Lewis' bad back is what got her into golf.
"I think anybody who survives real adversity comes out on the other side always a little bit tougher,'' said Judy Rankin, the World Golf Hall of Famer who covers Lewis as the leading TV analyst in women's golf and whose own career was cut short by a back injury. "Then I think she possibly has extra love for the game because at one point, she thought she might not play anymore. I also think she will still find a little more patience. She still gets very frustrated.''
Lewis' motto is that she always will keep trying. She will even try something different. For last month's Golf Digest, she posed in glamorous clothes and accessories. "A different side of me,'' she called it. "My dad wasn't all too thrilled with it, I can tell you that.''