Newlywed Lewis shifting priorities for '17 and beyond

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Stacy Lewis is quietly reimagining herself.

While the former Rolex world No. 1 sees herself playing less golf as a newlywed, she also sees herself more focused on what matters most on and off the course. She’s hoping that will make her better when it matters most, including over shots to win the game’s biggest events.

Lewis is planning to take more time off this year to be with her husband, Gerrod Chadwell, whom she married last August. She’s paring back her schedule by four or five tournaments. She’s hoping it will help her focus more on winning the events that matter most to her.

So don’t ask Lewis about her slide late last year in the Rolex world rankings . . .

“To be honest, I haven’t even looked at the world rankings,” Lewis said as she prepares to play the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic in this week’s LPGA season opener. “I don’t even know where I am. I’m not even going to look at them. It doesn’t matter; it really doesn’t.”

That’s a rather large clue as to how the former Rolex world No. 1’s priorities are changing, but it’s not the defining clue. Lewis opened last year at No. 3 in the world. She’s No. 14 now.

“It was cool to be No. 1, but it’s just not something I want to make a priority because I know what it takes to get there,” Lewis said. “These girls, they are 20 and 21 years old, and they are going to play in a lot of tournaments. I’m not at that point in my career where I want to do that.”

Lewis is pruning away things that used to matter to her, time that was focused on goals that could now choke the happiness in her new life as a married tour pro. She’s cutting out starts made just to chase world-ranking points, and she’s cutting out some of the rigorous world travel, too.

“I feel like I need to focus on playing places I like to play, places I’m going to be happy,” Lewis said. “I’m going to play U.S. tournaments and pick and choose a little more.

“I’m going to go to golf courses I know I like, where I feel I can play well, and I’m comfortable on, instead of going to courses where I know I’m just going to be frustrated all day.”

Less is more, Lewis hopes.

“For me, it’s about being in contention and having a chance to win majors,” Lewis said. “The big events, that’s what I’m looking to.

“If I ever get near the top of the world rankings again, that would be great, but it’s not the ultimate thing for me. I want to win tournaments. That’s what got me to No. 1, and really that’s always been my focus.”

Lewis, 31, may not be the highest ranked American in the women’s game anymore, with Lexi Thompson (No. 5) taking that honor, but Lewis is still the face of the American contingent, the veteran leader whose smart, incisive opinions matter so much.

For 25 weeks in parts of 2013 and ‘14, Lewis ruled as world No. 1. Her 11 LPGA titles include two major championships. She swept the Rolex Player of the Year, Vare Trophy and LPGA money title in ’14, becoming the first American to do so in 22 years. She was also Player of the Year in ’12.

While Lewis remains a consistent contender, she has piled up some frustration trying to win for the first time since the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship almost two-and-a-half years ago. She’s accumulated 11 second-place finishes since then.

With a reputation for toughness, a formidable scowl when things are not going well, Lewis let down her guard last spring, revealing publicly just how much she was struggling to find the balance she craved personally and professionally as she prepared for her wedding. She broke into tears after leaving her news conference at the ANA Inspiration.

“For so long, all I worried about was just myself and my golf,” Lewis said before heading to the Bahamas. “I was able to put everything I had into golf.”

Chadwell, the head women’s golf coach at the University of Houston, changed that.

“I wanted somebody in my life, I wanted to be married,” Lewis said. “I want to have a family, and I knew my priorities were going to change at some point. People don’t realize how much things off the course can really affect your play.

“The change of your mindset, the way you think about golf, where it fits in the priorities of your life, it was kind of a shock to me. I didn’t expect it to affect me that much.

“I feel like I have a much better balance now, and that my perspective on golf has changed a lot. I don’t want to say golf isn’t important, it’s just that other things are more important.”

It’s why Lewis surprised people scheduling her wedding on Aug. 6 last summer, right between the Ricoh Women’s British Open and the Olympics.

The wedding plans spoke volumes about Lewis’ commitment to shifting priorities. She, Chadwell and their families and closest friends gathered for the ceremony in Mystic, Conn.

“Maybe it wasn’t an ideal time, but I wasn’t going to let a golf tournament stand in the way of my wedding,” Lewis said. “It was that important. It’s one of the most important, special days of your life.”

Joe Hallett, Lewis’ long-time swing coach, could see the challenges Lewis faced internally last year, with monumental changes in her life coming in a busy stretch of monumental golf events. Lewis played a heavy summer schedule leading up to her wedding. 

Hallett sensed how squeezed Lewis felt in their time together. They talked about it in a two-day session in South Florida last week, as they prepared for this week’s season opener.

“I told her `You had too much on your plate last year,’” Hallett said. “I also told her the most important thing I’m invested in is her happiness, and so it was good to see that she’s very excited for this year, from the standpoint of how she’s planned out the year. She’s going to play courses she really enjoys, tournaments she really enjoys. She can see a schedule where she has built in time for herself and Gerrod, and she’s not dreading the schedule.”

Lewis believes the schedule should enhance her life on and off the course.

“In a way, it helps me be where I am,” Lewis said. “My husband and I talk about it, let's be where we are. If you’re playing golf, you’re playing golf, and you’re not thinking about anything else. That’s what I’m working on this year.”