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Lewis is enjoying fruits of long labor on PGA tour


www.statesman.com

Horseshoe Bay golfer, No. 22 on money list, has hit his stride

American-Statesman (10/16/2003)
By Doug Smith

J.L. Lewis has one of those overnight success stories that was about 20 years in the making.

Times are good these days for Lewis, who lives at Horseshoe Bay. He got his second victory on the PGA Tour last month at the 84 Lumber Classic of Pennsylvania, where he fired a final-round 62. That came just a week after a runner-up finish at the John Deere Classic, site of his first tour victory in 1999.

Lewis is currently No. 22 on the tour’s season money list with $1,945,659, and he has all but locked up berths in the season-ending Tour Championship and next year’s Masters.

It’s pretty heady stuff for the 43-year-old graduate of Southwest Texas State University, but Lewis’ road to the top level of professional golf has not been an easy one. It was not that long ago that Lewis was toiling as a club pro at Forest Creek Golf Club in Round Rock and the Ben White Golf Center. Lewis turned pro in 1984 but did not become a regular on the PGA Tour until 1995. “I always had confidence in my ability to play on the PGA Tour, but I just did not have the opportunities,” Lewis said by phone from his Horseshoe Bay home on a recent break from the tour. “I had a wife and a couple of kids to support, and I just did not have the money to go out on tour on my own. It wasn’t until I was 35 (in 1995) when I finally got some (financial) help from some sponsors and was able to get out there.”

Once he got out on tour, Lewis played well enough to retain his playing privileges. He was rarely in contention to win, however, and could usually be found between No. 60 and No. 100 on the money list. That has changed this year with Lewis finishing in the top 10 five times in addition to his victory in the 84 Lumber Classic.

“ It’s fun to win, and it’s fun to be in contention to win, which I have done several times this year,” Lewis said. “It is a payoff for a lot of patience, a lot of work and a lot of help from several people. It really takes a team of people for one player to make it on tour.”

Leading Team Lewis is the player’s wife, Dawn. “She’s been right with me all these years and has made a lot of sacrifices for me to pursue this thing. She is now, and always has been, the biggest influence in my life, and she is the reason for my happiness today,” Lewis said.

“ Dawn used to caddy for me, and about five years ago she began home-schooling our kids (Cole, 19, and Sherry, 16) while we all traveled the tour. It was a sacrifice for Cole and Sherry as well, being on the road about 30 weeks of the year. Not many kids have been to 200 tour tournaments.”

Lewis is one of nine players older than 40 who have won on tour this year, and he thinks he is just now hitting his prime.

“ I’m going to keep playing out here as long as I’m healthy,” Lewis said. “I love this game, and it’s what I’m going to do whether it’s on tour or not. I loved being a club pro before I got out on tour.

“ I think players in their 40s are more mature and can focus better,” Lewis said, reflecting on the victories by older players this year. “Look at other businesses and most people peak in their 40s. That’s when most people have their life and act together. It helps if you have a real solid home life like I do. With that and if you stay in shape, there is no reason you can’t play (the tour) until you’re 60.”

LPGA sectional set

The LPGA Teaching and Club Professional Central Section Championship will be Oct. 28-29 at The Hills Country Club. The winner earns an exemption to play in next year’s McDonald’s LPGA Championship, one of the four majors on the women’s tour.

The tournament also offers some benefits for area fans. The first is a free clinic and putting tournament Oct. 26 at The Hills that will feature local teaching pros Chuck Cook and Lisa De Paulo, Austin touring pro Cindy Figg-Currier and golf therapist Jay Platt. The clinic will begin at 3:30 p.m.

Spots are still open for an Oct. 27 pro-am at The Hills. Each team will include four amateurs and one LPGA Teaching and Club professional.

One lucky team will get to play with LPGA Hall of Famer Kathy Whitworth. Figg-Currier and LPGA star Sherri Steinhauer, an all-American at Texas in the early 1980s, will also play in the pro-am.

For information on the clinic or to play in the pro-am contact De Paulo at 261-6771.