NAPLES, Fla. -- Stacy Lewis might not be the LPGA Tour player of year if not for her doctor buying a raffle ticket he didn't want.
It's a bizarre twist in her unlikely path to the top of women's golf. And it's a reminder to Lewis that whenever she asks that familiar question -- "Why me?" -- the answer no longer is grounded in self-pity, but in sheer amazement.
"I guess it's fate a little bit," Lewis said.
Fate doesn't happen without hard work, and few players had it tougher than Lewis.
She was diagnosed with scoliosis when she was 11, so severe that she wore a back brace for 18 hours every day from age 11 until she got out of high school, and then had to have surgery when that didn't correct the curvature in her spine.
That's when Gary Brock, her orthopedic surgeon in Houston, entered the picture.
Brock knew Lewis played golf at The Woodlands Country Club. He just didn't know she was good enough to have earned a scholarship to Arkansas. In the months leading up to her back surgery, Brock was invited to a charity event in which one of the prizes was a series of lessons with a golf pro.
"I went with a friend of mine. He was the one who wanted to win the raffle ticket," Brock said Wednesday. "I just bought one to humor him, and I ended up winning. The pro that I worked with had worked with Stacy. All summer long, he said what a great golfer she could be."
It was enough for Brock to consider giving
The original plan was to insert two rods in her back. Brock suggested a single rod with five screws, which would allow her more flexibility and rotation for golf. It also meant going in from the side, breaking a rib and maneuvering around two major blood vessels.
"I remember he called my wife and I and said, ‘We need to do a different surgery,' " said Dale Lewis, her father. "He said, ‘It's going to take twice as along. It's twice as risky. The recovery is twice as long. But she'll be so much more flexible.' "
Lewis took it from there.
She spent her first year at Arkansas as a redshirt, recovering from surgery. She could only chip and putt for six months before she was allowed to swing, and she earned a spot on the team. As a junior, she won the NCAA title. As a senior, she tied for third at the Kraft Nabisco Championship on an amateur invitation. She ended her amateur career by going undefeated at the Curtis Cup.
And now this, a breakthrough year of four wins to become the first American since Beth Daniel in 1994 to win the points-based player of the year. She will be honored Friday night during the LPGA Titleholders, and Brock is flying to Florida to join the celebration.
All because of his raffle ticket?
"Exactly," Lewis said, smiling at how something so small can lead to something so grand. "I think it's amazing how you make a decision a certain way, how little things seem to fall into place and you can look back say that was a turning point. At the time, I didn't really think the stuff with my doctor was that big of a deal. But now looking back, I mean, he doesn't win the raffle and I'm not here today? It's crazy."