Stacy Lewis is the best American female golfer since Beth Daniel and Betsy King took turns ruling over the women’s game two decades ago.
With 10 LPGA titles over the last three seasons, with a pair of runs at Rolex world No. 1 over the last two seasons, Lewis is coming off what should have been one of her most satisfying years. She swept the LPGA’s major awards in 2014, taking home the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy for low scoring average and the LPGA money title. She was the first American to do that since King did it 22 years ago.
While Lewis was more than pleased with how rewarding that achievement was, she couldn’t hide a certain disappointment with what she didn’t walk away with among her three victories.
“I’m not saying it was a great year,” Lewis said in assessing her effort at season’s end. “I would have liked to have won a major. That would have made it a great year.”
Lewis didn’t walk away with a major championship title last year, and she didn’t walk away with the Rolex world No. 1 ranking. Inbee Park did win a major, and Park also took back the No. 1 ranking from Lewis late in the year.
There was motivation in all of that this offseason for the ultracompetitive Lewis, whose ambition may be without rival on tour. She seems to possess a compulsion to be the best.
With the new season now at hand, Lewis is hearing the buildup begin, and she’s noticing something.
“I think a lot of the talk in the offseason hasn’t been about me and Inbee, it’s been more about Michelle [Wie] and Lydia [Ko],” Lewis told GolfChannel.com. “While that doesn’t bother me, it motivates me. That’s what kind of has driven me this offseason.”
Park and Lewis have taken turns holding the No. 1 world ranking for almost two years now, but Ko’s knocking on the door. In fact, Ko is in position to make a move to No. 1 at the season opener in Ocala, Fla. Wie also wants a part of that action. Wie left the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship with ambitious parting words.
“I worked all year to try to get to No. 1,” Wie said. “I was really close. That kind of gets me going … really motivates me.”
Lace ’em up, LPGA pros. It’s difficult to imagine this year being as exciting as last year, but there’s potential for even more fireworks.
Lewis, Park, Ko and Wie will be part of next week’s star-studded season opener.
“It’s been a good, long break,” said Lewis, who went home to Texas to relax with family in December. “I’m excited about the progress I’ve seen with my swing these last two weeks. I’m excited to get going and to see how it’s going to translate into tournament play.”
Lewis will turn 30 next month. While resting in December, she slipped another spot to No. 3 in the world rankings, behind No. 1 Park and No. 2 Ko. It was a function of divisors and points falling away in the Rolex rankings’ two-year rolling window.
As if Lewis needed more motivation …
Lewis’ peers have gotten to the point where they’re surprised if Lewis isn’t on a leaderboard. She had a tour-best 18 top-10 finishes last year. She had 19 the year before. Her fellow players are expecting more of the same this year.
“She’s so consistent,” Natalie Gulbis said. “It’s her tenacity. She’s in the mix, week in and week out now, the same way Annika [Sorenstam], Karrie [Webb] and Lorena [Ochoa] got into the mix. It’s not easy to be consistent like that in golf.”
Lewis can’t hide the competitive nature that drives here when she’s inside the ropes. Her intensity sometimes radiates as a scowl, her fire inimical, but fellow players have learned this easily misleads. Lewis has become the undisputed leader of the American ranks, respected for more than her game. She’s also appreciated for her straightforwardness and her generosity.
“She’s just a really good person,” said Jessica Korda, a two-time LPGA winner. “She's a great ambassador of the LPGA tour and women's golf. She always will tell you her honest opinion, which is something that I really admire, because a lot of people will tell you the nice things, or the comfortable things, but they'll never tell you the uncomfortable things. Stacy's the type of person that'll just tell you like it is, and you just take it because that's the way it is.”
In preparation for the new year, Lewis and swing coach Joe Hallett have been working on challenges that crept into her swing late in the year. Though she gutted out last year’s finish to the season, sweeping those important awards, she wasn’t happy with her swing at year’s end. She said her putting saved her.
“You go through ups and downs, I realize that,” Lewis said. “I think I got really focused on trying to win those three awards. That was a goal, and I kind of lost track of what made me successful, which was just trying to get better every day. It was pretty much a relief when it was all done, and I was able to accomplish it. Now I can go out there and just play golf again and try to get better.”