ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- Stacy Lewis fell in love with the worst of St. Andrews.
The gray, old town lived up to its reputation the morning that Lewis arrived with the rest of the U.S. Curtis Cup team in the late spring of 2008, her final tournament as an amateur. They drove straight to the Old Course, and Lewis was in awe.
“We got off the plane and we got here early in the morning, and it was raining sideways and we all put on our rain jackets and rain gear and we came out and just walked around,” Lewis, who grew up in The Woodland, Texas, said.
“Instantly, I fell in love with it. I think it’s more the history than anything, just knowing all the great champions that have played here.”
Lewis can add her name to the list.
With a birdie-birdie finish, and a 5-iron into the 17th that is the very essence of links golf, Lewis rallied from a three-shot deficit with three holes to play and beat the blustery conditions Sunday with an even-par 72 for a two-shot victory.
“I love this golf course, and I think I was happy being here all week,” Lewis said. “And I was comfortable. And I think that’s a lot of the reason I’m here right now.”
Some of her best golf was required.
The wind was strong enough that Lewis was the only player among the last 21 groups who teed off in the final round to shot par or better.
Everyone was making mistakes, and Lewis was not immune. She took three bogeys on the back nine, including a 5-foot par putt she missed that put her three behind with three to play.
Na Yeon Choi had a three-shot lead with six holes to play and quickly fell back with consecutive three-putt bogeys from some 80 feet.
Morgan Pressel, the 54-hole leader on a 36-hole Sunday, was tied for the lead at the turn and one shot behind when she found trouble off the tee at No. 12 and made double bogey. She never caught up.
Hee Young Park made three straight bogeys on the back nine.
Lewis was the only one who recovered, and it took a shot that she says might have been the best of her career. She won’t get much of an argument.
She couldn’t remember the yardage, because sometimes the distance to the flag doesn’t matter on a links course in blustery conditions.
Lewis only knew she needed a birdie on one her last two holes to have any chance of winning the Women’s British Open.
As she stood in the 17th hole, trying to picture the shot in her head, she would have happily settled for par. The famous Road Hole was the toughest all week at St. Andrews, and it’s one of the toughest in the world in windy conditions.
The approach shot is one of the scariest at St. Andrews, with the Road Hole bunker front and center, and a road behind the green that spells trouble for anything long.
“The shot I saw was kind of a low 5-iron,” she said. “What we wanted to do was start it at the front right of the green and let it turn with the wind, and it would knock it down, it would hit into the slope and it would roll up there. Somehow, it did that.
“It’s one of those shots you see in your head, but you don’t really ever pull it off,” Lewis said. “And just off the club face, it was perfect.”
The ball rolled up to 3 feet for a birdie, and walking off the 17th green, Lewis said she told caddie Travis Wilson, “One more.”
From about 40 yards in front of the 18th green, Lewis used her putter to go through the Valley of Sin. It stopped 25 feet behind the hole, and she made that for a most remarkable birdie-birdie finish.
Lewis stooped and put both hands on her knees, out of breath from such a whirlwind finish.
She finished 8-under 280, and then only had to wait to see if anyone could catch her.
Choi held out hope for a birdie at the 18th, but her shot into the 17th was too strong and caught the back collar of rough.
Choi missed a 6-foot par putt to fall two shots behind, and the need for a birdie turned into a need for a miracle. She failed to hole out her second shot, and Lewis had her second major.
Choi shot 73 and tied for second with Park, who had a 73. Pressel, who had a one-shot lead over Lewis going into the final round, also made bogey on the 17th and finished three shots behind after a 76. She tied for fourth with Suzann Pettersen, who closed with a 74.
“It’s just crazy,” Lewis said. “I was just hanging in there all day, and then 17 and 18 just happened so fast that I don’t know if it’s really hit me yet.
“It was so hard you had to stay focused on the next shot. You couldn’t even really think about the end. I made par on 16 and thought if I could par 17 and birdie 18 somehow, that might be good enough for a playoff. My patience is what won it for me today, and it’s really cool to have that trophy.”
That’s two trophies from St. Andrews, this one all to herself. She went 5-0 in her matches at the Curtis Cup in 2008, leading the Americans to victory.
Most of the attention was on the other Park—Inbee Park—who was going after history at the home of golf.
Park won three straight LPGA Tour majors to start the year, and she was trying to become the first professional golfer to win four straight majors in the same season.
She started out by making six birdies in 10 holes. But it all went downhill from there. Park struggled with her swing, and then reading the greens, and she only fixed one problem.
“These greens were tough to judge,” Park said. “One minute they were quick, one minute they were slow.”
She went 74-78 over her final two rounds and tied for 42nd, 14 shots out of the lead.
“I’m really relieved,” Park said. “I really enjoyed this week, every moment I was here. But it’s tough to be in the center of everything for a week, and I feel exhausted.”
So was Lewis, for an entirely different reason.
The Solheim Cup teams were decided Sunday, so Lewis returned to a news conference dressed in a navy blue Solheim Cup jacket. That night, she went back to the Dunvegan Hotel with her team to celebrate.
The drinks were on her.