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The LPGA Tour's season-ending event, the CME Group Titleholders, will kick off on Thursday The Eagles Course at the TwinsEagles Club in Naples, Fla. The second annual event will feature a star-studded field of 73 players who punched their ticket after qualifying at one of the 26 LPGA events this year. Those players will compete for a total purse of $1.5 million in the unique season-long qualifying format with the winner earning a first-place prize check of $500,000.
At the age of 11, Stacy Lewis was diagnosed with scoliosis forcing her to wear a back brace nearly 18 hours in the day and eventually undergoing surgery to insert a rod into her spine. For a while it was doubtful Lewis would even pick up a golf club but fast forward to November 11, 2012 and the girl who everybody thought would never play golf again, was named this year's Rolex Player of the Year.
"I just think back to 10 years ago when I remember sitting in a doctor's office and him telling me that I was going to have to have back surgery," Lewis said. "That was the time that, I mean, I thought I would never play golf again. Now 10 years later I'm here winning Player of the Year, that's crazy. That's not normal, you know?"
Lewis doesn't have to look far for a reminder of the long road she took to become the LPGA's 2012 Rolex Player of the Year. There are two sitting in the closet of her parents' home.
The very first and the very last plastic back braces that Lewis ever wore are sitting in that closet. While Lewis thought about burning those hard, plastic braces immediately after she finished treatment, she instead wanted to keep them as a memento of her struggles.
"I think the reason that I played golf, that was when I could get out of my brace," Lewis said. " I think I did the two sports growing up that when you got out of the brace, that's why I could get out of the brace, I swam and I played golf. That's probably why I'm playing golf today."
That and perhaps one other lucky break. This year, Lewis has won three events and notched 12 additional top-10 finishes en route to capturing Player of the Year honors. But if it wasn't for her doctor winning a golf lesson, the Texan might have never played another round of golf again.
"It's actually a funny story," said Lewis. "We were going to do the double rod and my doctor happened to win a golf lesson at some function they had at the hospital, so at a course in Houston. He went and got this lesson done and somehow my name came up in conversation. I went back to the doctor a couple months later and he was like, you didn't tell me you were such a good golfer. I was like, what are you talking about?"
"The guy he had gotten a lesson with was, it was at The Woodlands and knew who I was and told him -- the doctor didn't even know I had a scholarship to go play, just never came up in conversation," said Lewis. "He was like, we're going to do the surgery different now, and the doctor basically made the decision. He said we're going to put one rod in, you'll have more rotation. The recovery is a little bit longer but you'll be able to play golf better. "
For Yani Tseng, it's been quite an interesting 2012 season â€“ one full of many ups and downs.
Tseng finished in the top-10 in each of her first eight events of the season, which including winning three of the first five LPGA events. But after such a hot start, things stalled in a hurry for Tseng. In her next 11 events, she didn't record a single top-10 and had three missed cuts which was triple the amount that she had during her remarkable 2011 season.
But just when it seemed that Tseng's slump might prolong into the remainder of the season, she found a way to bounce back. In her final three events leading into the CME Group Titleholders, Tseng recorded three top 5 finishes. She finished third at the Sunrise LPGA Taiwan Championship, third at the Mizuno Classic and fourth at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational.
With such a topsy-turvy year, Tseng was asked if she considers this to be a successful season or a disappointing one for her following that tremendous year in 2011.
"Successful," Tseng said. "I still win three tournaments, I still have 11, 12 Top 10s. So maybe I can win this tournament, you never know. It doesn't matter the results of this week, I feel I still have success year.
Tseng then finished off her pre-tournament press conference with one of the classic lines of the day.
"I'm still World Number 1, so don't forget about that."
Yani Tseng has maintained her No.1 spot in the Rolex Women's World Golf Rankings despite Stacy Lewis' surge this season. But while Tseng may still be the player that everyone is shooting for, she isn't shy to seek advice from some of the players chasing her â€“ including Lewis.
The two players were paired together at the Mizuno Classic in Japan two weeks ago and Tseng took the opportunity to pick up some tips from Lewis during those rounds.
"I was asking Stacy because I saw her putting, it's amazing, so I tried to get some tips from her," Tseng said. "It's very different, how can you get tips from another best player.
"But I was very happy to see her playing so well. I think it's very good for American golf, very good for the LPGA and I think it's great. 18 years, never had an American player win Rolex Player of the Year, so I think it's a good time to let her win so hopefully next year I can get it back."
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- 16/11/2012 08:22 - Three way tie for the lead on Opening Day of CME Group Titleholders