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More than one path to the top for Park, Lewis

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There is more than one path to the top of the women’s game.

Rolex world No. 1 Inbee Park and No. 2 Stacy Lewis are textbook cases as they prepare to play the Kingsmill Championship this week in Williamsburg, Va.

Park turned pro when she was 17, Lewis when she was 23.

Park did not play collegiately, Lewis did.

They both claimed major championships as their first LPGA titles. Park was 19 when she won the U.S. Women’s Open, Lewis 26 when she won the Kraft Nabisco.


Inbee Park vs. Stacy Lewis

No. 1 Inbee Park   No. 2 Stacy Lewis
24 Age 28
South Korea Country  United States
 3/7 2013 LPGA wins/starts  2/8
6/147 Career LPGA wins/starts 7/116
69.5/(T-1)
2013 scoring average/(rank) 69.5/(T-1)
$841,068/(1)
2013 earnings/(rank)  $636,803/(2)
250.714 yards/(76) 2013 driving distance/(rank) 261.125 yards/(25)
73.8 percent/(10) 2013 GIR/(rank) 76 percent/(5)


Today, it appears they may have a harder time separating themselves from each other than they will separating themselves from the rest of the women’s game; though, Suzann Pettersen might argue otherwise.

Park and Lewis are on the rise together despite having taken such diverse paths.

Park strengthened her grip on the Rolex No. 1 world ranking Sunday winning the North Texas LPGA Shootout in Irving, Texas. It was her third victory this season and her fifth in her last 18 starts. Lewis held the No. 1 ranking for four weeks before Park gained it three weeks ago. Lewis has won twice this year, six times in the last two seasons.

Rarely does a tournament pass these days where either Park or Lewis is not contending. Typically, they’re both in the mix. Of the LPGA’s eight events this year, Park and Lewis have won five. Just one event has ended without one of them finishing among the top 10 (ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open) and Park didn’t play in that.

“It’s always good to see my name on the top of the leaderboard almost every week,” Park said. “I mean, not every week, but close to every week. It’s really good to see my game improving every week, every year, and just trying to take it step by step.”

Park and Lewis both elevated their games last year. Park won the LPGA money title and the Vare Trophy for low scoring average. Lewis was the Rolex Player of the Year.

When Park took the No. 1 ranking from Lewis three weeks ago, it caught the game by surprise because it came in an off week without either player competing. It felt like a back-door entry to No. 1. With the rankings based on a two-year rolling window, Park’s divisor changed, giving her a boost in average world ranking points used to determine No. 1. Park’s victory in Texas on Sunday erased any doubts she deserved to be there.

Nobody should be surprised, though, if Park and Lewis keep taking turns at the top.

With the world rankings so close, there is added pressure on Park and Lewis to keep pace with each other.

“I found myself after Hawaii being disappointed with a ninth-place finish, when anyone's usually happy with a top 10, so I needed to kind of take some perspective back,” Lewis said. “I've won twice this year ... it's been really good, and I just need to not put so much pressure on myself and just realize I'm doing a lot of good things.”

Park and Lewis show there are as many ways to groom a world-class game as there are personalities.

Born in South Korea, Park moved to the United States when she was 12 and began playing junior golf in the Orlando, Fla., area. She won nine American Junior Golf Association events and claimed the U.S. Girls’ Junior when she was 14.

Park was in a hurry to play the LPGA and tried to do so at 17. The LPGA, however, denied her petition for a waiver of its rule requiring members be at least 18. So, instead of heading to LPGA Q-School, Park enrolled at UNLV. She attended classes for just two days before bolting to play the Futures Tour, the LPGA’s developmental circuit, now called the Symetra Tour. Park turned 18 that summer on the Futures Tour and earned her LPGA card by finishing third on the money list.

Lewis, whose battle with scoliosis challenged her development, wasn’t in such a hurry to become a pro. She wasn’t an AJGA regular in the national events. She redshirted her freshman year at the University of Arkansas while recovering from spinal surgery. She spent five years at Arkansas honing her game as a national champion and decorated collegiate amateur before turning pro and winning her tour card in her first trip to LPGA Q-School. Lewis’ first LPGA event as a pro was the 2008 U.S. Women’s Open at Hazeltine. She was the 54-hole leader, but Park passed her in the final round to win her first LPGA title.

Their paths crossed early with the promise of continuing to cross often in the LPGA’s near future.