The following article was published in the Southern Texas PGA Spotlight in Texas Golf + Travel Magazine by Carl Mickelson this month. It gives a great update on J.L. Lewis’ life and happenings the past couple of years.
Two-Time PGA TOUR Winner Lewis is Winning His Most Important Battle
Every life has its highs and lows. For J.L. Lewis, winner of 1999 John Deere Classic and the 84 Lumber Classic in 2003, the highs have been into the stratosphere and his lowest low has, frankly, been a little scary. Still, Lewis always seems to find life’s soft landing spots, coming back from adversity with a grounded perspective and an inspiring approach to helping others.
In June 2012, Lewis was in Birmingham, AL, preparing to play in the Champions Tour’s Regions Tradition tournament when nagging pain in the middle of his back led him to seek a physician’s advice. Tests eventually led to the diagnosis of Multiple Myeloma, a serious form of bone marrow cancer that is most likely to strike people (mostly men, and more than half of them, African American) over the age of 70. Lewis, now 54, was young to be battling the disease and perhaps that’s why he’s never really let it get him down.
“When you go through something like this, you just face it and try to learn something from it,” he says. “I’ve learned a few things about patience and perseverance, realizing that there’s always somebody out there that’s got a tougher situation than you do.”
Breakthroughs in medicine and genomics have turned what would have been a bleak prognosis into a hopeful one. In 2013, along with chemotherapy, Lewis received a stem cell treatment in which healthy cells were extracted from his neck, treated and then injected back into his bloodstream.
“In the ‘90s, people were getting this diagnosis and being given three months to live,” Lewis says. “I’m told, if I stay healthy, I can live at least 15 to 25 years, maybe more, if the breakthroughs keep coming. Multiple Myeloma is treatable, but not curable. I’m always going to be fighting this and regular blood tests are just a part of my routine now.”
In the time since his recovery, Lewis has found the Tour grinder’s answer to a “desk job.” He’s head golf professional at Salado’s Mill Creek Country Club and has rediscovered a passion for the lesson tee. “I think that helping people is my biggest purpose in life,” he says. More than winning golf tournaments, the best way for me to help people is with their golf games.”
Lewis also runs day-to-day golf operations at Mill Creek and he’s hopeful the property will grow into the kind of destination course he and its owners think it can be. “It’s an awesome piece of land and a really a special little layout,” Lewis says of the Central Texas hidden gem. “As the population of Austin grows north and Temple and Waco grow south, I really think we’re going to get recognition as one of the best courses in the area. The owners are committed to improving the place.”
To look at the man, you would think he’s be ready to strap on his spikes, tap his caddie on the shoulder and head down the fairway at a Champions Tour event. In reality, Lewis does feel great, until he doesn’t. “If I try to play two days in a row, I’m really tired,” he says. “I need more rest than I used to, but I’m hopeful that I can regain that energy someday.”
The son of two Emporia, Kansas educators, Lewis has teaching in his blood and is enjoying helping Salado locals, including the high school golf teams, reach new heights. He also hopes he’s honoring the help he’s received from longtime friend and heralded Austin-based teaching professional Bill Moretti.
“I was blessed during my playing career to meet Bill when I was working in Lakeway. He helped me more than anyone I’ve ever met,” Lewis says. “He took me from being a shut-faced ball striker to a straight-ball hitter. After that, my mechanics became natural. I didn’t have to think about it. I could just go out there and focus on scoring because my golf swing was what I wanted it to be. He helped me with my career playing, but he also gave me a career after playing. We will be connected forever.”
Lewis has always found ways to achieve balance. When he played on the PGA Tour, his wife Dawn and his children traveled with him. In times when he had only conditional status on the PGA Tour, he worked as a club professional, honing the business and teaching skills he now uses daily.
Lewis could lament being stricken with a disease that rarely attacks someone his age, but he chooses to relish the rare opportunities he’s had before Multiple Myeloma and enduring bonds with friends and family. “A very, very small number of people who get to play the Tour ever win. I feel very fortunate to have done it (twice on the PGA Tour and once in Mexico),” he says. “I’ve had 40 top-10 finishes. I’ve been to Pebble Beach 20-plus times. I’ve played in every tournament at least ten times, and some of them fifteen times. It’s not like I haven’t had my shot. I’ve had a lot of shots.”
Wherever that place is that survivors go to summon the strength and perspective they need to carry on, Lewis has clearly been there and, now he’s back. With a 30-year plan.
“I’d like to see Mill Creek grow into the special destination I think it can be,” he says. “I’d like to keep improving as an instructor and a player, and I’d like to get in really good physical condition again. I want to watch my grandkids grow up. That’s big.”
To join the fight against cancer and aid research like the stem cell breakthroughs that have helped J.L. Lewis, visit mdanderson.org to see how you can help.
Print copies of Texas Golf + Travel Magazine are being distributed this weekend and into next week. Some copies will be available at Mill Creek Country Club. To learn more about Texas Golf + Travel visit their Facebook page.
J.L. is now teaching golf lessons at Mill Creek Country Club in Salado, Texas. Pricing is as follows:
1/2 Hour Adult Lesson: $40
1/2 Hour Child Lesson: $20
Mill Creek Country Club also hosts golf events. The cost is $50 per player for tournaments. Please contact Mill Creek Country Club to schedule your next golf lesson with J.L. or to set up an event at (254) 947-5698, or at JLLewis@JLLewisGolfTips.com.