SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — One bogey was followed immediately by a second, then a third and fourth, and finally a fifth. Stacy Lewis was in the midst of her own private avalanche in the foothills of the Rockies.
"I tend to let things snowball," said Lewis, putting a broad answer on the specifics of a five-hole stretch of the third round that ruined her chances to win the 2011 U.S. Women’s Open at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colo. "Instead of saying it was just one bad shot or one bad hole, I get frustrated. I feel as if I should always play perfect golf."
Golf, as we well know, is not a game of perfect. As much as Lewis realizes this truth, she remains in dogged pursuit of disproving it.
The 68th U.S. Women's Open, which starts Thursday at Sebonack Golf Club on the East end of Long Island, offers Lewis another such opportunity. But, as evidenced by her eventual 34th-place finish two years ago, this is a championship that has historically been unkind to the 28-year-old.
"If you're a U.S. player, this is the tournament you want to win," said Lewis, who has finished inside the top 20 only once — tied for 14th in 2010 — since tying for third in 2008. "It's definitely been my nemesis the last few years. I think more of the emotional side of it; I haven't handled it very well. So this week, my number one goal is to see how level I can remain all week."
By level she means confining her emotions to the moment. A bogey, even two, like the ones that befell her on the inward nine at The Broadmoor, need to be compartmentalized in a championship where the winning score has been 5-under-par or higher eight times since 2000.
Lewis is an inquisitive sort. She likes to watch people, analyze what they are doing and then formulate questions. When observing her mentor and friend, Karrie Webb, make a swing change, for example, Lewis wants to know how she made the change and why. The "why?" adds another level of depth to her learning process.
"I ask a lot of questions," Lewis said. "I don't ever feel like I can learn too much."
A four-time All-American at the University of Arkansas, Lewis turned pro in June 2008 after going 5-0-0 to help the USA win the Curtis Cup. Her goal on tour was to win — often. Her patience was tried until 2011 when she defeated then-Rolex Rankings No. 1 Yani Tseng by three strokes at the Kraft Nabisco Championship.
In a breakout 2012 season, Lewis won four times en route to capturing the LPGA Player of the Year award. She ascended to No. 1 on March 18 of this year after her second consecutive win. She sat atop the rankings for four weeks until torrid Inbee Park, who has won five times this season, including the year's first two majors, bolted to the No. 1 position and dropped Lewis to No. 2.
"It's golf," said Lewis of a three-tournament stretch where she finished no better than 27th before tying for fourth at last week's Walmart NW Arkansas Championship. "I think you go on streaks where you play good; you go on streaks where you play poorly. I don't feel like I played that poorly. I don't see it as I lost No. 1. Inbee just took it from me. She came out and she bulldozed the field the last two majors."
Lewis is prepared for a run to reclaim world No. 1 and likes the state of her game. Last week's performance in Arkansas, not far from where she played collegiately, was a step in that direction. She finished two strokes back of Park.
Sebonack, a 6,797-yard layout, appeals to Lewis. She describes it as a second-shot, links-style golf course that demands creativity — and patience.
"I like this year that you don't have to drive it perfect off the tees, but you've got to play smart into the greens," Lewis said. "You can take it off of ridges, you can go multiple ways to get the ball close, and I like that. I think it brings in another aspect of the game that the U.S. Opens haven't tested in the past few years."
Sebonack and this championship will also challenge Lewis' fortitude. Unlike many players, she does not work with a sports psychologist, but she treated last week's tournament like a major from a mental standpoint. In her final-round 71, she suffered a double bogey on a par-5, but bounced back with a birdie. It was the type of two-hole stretch that could as easily gone sour.
"I really thought I handled it pretty well," she said. "I didn't play as well as I would have liked on Sunday, but I was still able to have fun at the end of the round and come out of there with a lot of positives."
She will need them starting on Thursday.
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA championship websites.