At golf’s newest major, this local legend knows what matters most

Stacy Lewis admits it’s a little bit strange being at the LPGA’s first major championship of 2023. After a half-century in Palm Springs, the Chevron Championship (formerly known as the ANA and the Dinah Shore) has relocated to the Woodlands, just outside of Houston. That means a new golf course. It means new traditions. But for Lewis it means a blast from the past, too: sleeping at home.

“Yeah, it’s a little strange staying at my parents’ house and coming and playing a golf tournament,” Lewis said on Wednesday, addressing the media from Carlton Woods, three-and-a-half miles from this week’s digs.

The Woodlands is a golfing town. And while Lewis has only played Carlton a handful of times, her family belonged to Woodlands Country Club just down the road.

“We’d finish school and my parents would just drop me off at the golf course, and that’s all I did,” she said.

In other communities that might have been an isolating experience; the world of the committed junior golfer can be a lonely one. But Lewis remembers that in 2003 her golf team at Woodlands High had 30 girls on the roster. She credited a supportive golf community with making that happen.

“I seem to have a lot of hometowns as we travel around with the Tour, but I always want to be announced from the Woodlands because it’s where I grew up, it’s where I learned the game of golf, and it feels like the most home place to me.”

Two decades later, 38-year-old Lewis is a leader across the professional game. Earlier this week she helped candidates for the U.S. Solheim Cup get sized up for uniforms. She’s likely drawing from a pool of 15 or 20, she said, and hoped the sight of red, white and blue gear would provide some extra motivation as they gun for a roster spot.

She’s been a leader in shaping this week’s event, too. Lewis has been a part of the Chevron’s player advisory group providing feedback on what would make the championship feel special.

“There’s obviously a lot of traditions with this event, and [they asked] what was the traditions that were most important to us. They asked current players, they asked retired players, they asked everybody,” she said.

While she’d be excited to see a player honor the Poppie’s Pond tradition from Palm Springs — though the fear of local creatures could prove a deterrent — a nod to the tournament’s founder was priority No. 1.

“To me, Dinah is and was the most important thing,” she said. “You can take the leap in Poppie’s Pond and all that kind of stuff, but to me, there’s a reason Dinah is the only non-playing person in our LPGA Hall of Fame. There’s a reason for that.

“Chevron crushed it. You see it with the trophy. Dinah’s Place on 18. Everything is about Dinah this week, and that’s what we tried to tell them over and over again is what was important.”

It’s worth noting that Lewis’ loyalty extends far beyond the Woodlands’ boundaries. Ahead of the 2017 Cambia Portland Classic, Lewis pledged her week’s earnings to the Houston-area victims of Hurricane Harvey. She made good on the pledge with her first victory in three years and she and sponsor KPMG donated nearly $400,000 as a result. She’s eager for this tournament to start giving back, too.

“I think if we’re making an impact in the community, if people know it’s going on, if we’re supporting local charities, not just in the Woodlands; I’m thinking all of Houston. We’ve got to get all of Houston involved in this, and that’s something that probably doesn’t happen in one year, to be honest. This city is so big.”

Then there’s the matter of Lewis’ golf game. It’s been 12 years since her first official LPGA win, which came at this event — then called the Kraft Nabisco Championship — in 2011. She hasn’t contended often over the last 12 months but has a top-10 and a top-25 in her last three starts.

“I actually feel pretty good about it,” she admitted. “[I’ve] been trending — the last three tournaments I guess I’ve really played pretty well, to be honest.

“It’s not fun to be out here and play poorly. I’m just not one of those players that just likes to be out here and just hang out and play bad golf. It’s just not in me to just let my game go sideways even though I’ve got all these different things going on.”

In a week where we’re ushering in a new major championship, it’s worth asking: what makes a major, anyway? There’s no right answer, but the simplest version is something like this: majors are majors because we decide they are. In that vein, the Chevron will do well to follow Lewis’ lead. She knows the LPGA landscape as well as anybody. She knows the Woodlands’ landscape, too.

It seems like a good week to come home.