Stacy Lewis closing in on No. 1
WILLIAMSBURG, Va. -- Stacy Lewis is in the hunt to get back the No. 1 ranking in women's golf. And she's found a happy medium in her approach.
Yes, she really wants it, and that's not a given with all players. Sure, most may say they'd love to be in the top spot, but not everyone has the personality for it.
Lewis does, but that's something she's worked on -- keeping her emotions in check, understanding there are additional media responsibilities, adjusting to dealing with more attention overall.
But she's not preoccupied about the potential for overtaking South Korea's Inbee Park at No. 1. It could happen after this week's Kingsmill Championship, which begins Thursday in Virginia. If it doesn't, Lewis will just keep doing what she's become so good at: Giving herself chances to win.
Lewis is coming off a victory in the North Texas LPGA Shootout on May 4, which was her ninth career LPGA title. She grew up in the Houston area, so winning in the Lone Star State was especially fun for her. And it moved her closer to supplanting Park atop the Rolex world rankings.
"It's a motivation, but I wouldn't say it's my No. 1 goal," Lewis said. "My goal is to win tournaments. The rankings, the money list [then] take care of themselves. But I do really want to get to No. 1 in the world. Whether it happens this week or a few weeks from now, it doesn't really matter."
Lewis was No. 1 for four weeks in 2013, reaching that perch in March of that year, but being replaced by Park in April. Park, who had six victories -- three of them majors -- in 2013, hasn't won on the LPGA Tour yet this year but has held onto her ranking. She is not playing at Kingsmill this week.
The LPGA said based on its calculations, Lewis would take over the top spot if she wins here or finishes alone in second place -- unless 17-year-old phenom Lydia Ko wins, then she would vault to No. 1.
Lewis, who turned 29 in February, just chuckles every time someone asks about the "kids" such as Ko who are on the tour. Lewis was facing back surgery when she was 17, and then she went to college at Arkansas.
"I was a late bloomer," she said, but in fact, the path she took used to be common for even the very best LPGA players.
That her success is more in the "old school" style fits who Lewis is. It's fair to say she's a grinder by heart who has figured out how to go on birdie binges when that is what's called for. Some courses give, some take away. Now, Lewis knows how to win on both.
"When I first came on the tour, I played well on the hard golf courses," Lewis said. "But then if there were birdie fests and we had to shoot 25 under to win, I wasn't even close. So I had to learn how to make more birdies, how to be a little bit more aggressive when you can.
"Now I feel like I can handle any situation. Whether it's windy, firm and fast, or soft, I feel like I can play in those situations."
Lewis led the LPGA in top-10 finishes in 2013, with 19. This year, she's been in the top 10 in eight of the nine events she's played. Norway's Suzann Pettersen, who was second in top 10s in 2013, said such consistency is difficult to attain.
"It means a lot -- that your game is good enough on a weekly basis [and] you can play every course," Pettersen said. "It's not like you're limited on certain golf courses.
"If you're in contention every week, that's how you learn to deal with all that comes up on Sunday on the back nine. You learn what your tendencies will be."
Learning about herself from the mental and emotional standpoints has been a gratifying process for Lewis. You can tell in her answers to media questions that she's got a good handle on the big picture, not just in regard to her own career, but with the LPGA in general.
"One thing I worked on this year is kind of trying to stay more level on the golf course and not getting the super highs and lows," Lewis said. "If you get a bad break, it's going to happen. Just kind of rolling on with things instead of letting it affect me so much.
One thing I worked on this year is kind of trying to stay more level on the golf course and not getting the super highs and lows. If you get a bad break, it's going to happen.Stacy Lewis
"I want to play well, but I want to handle my emotions a lot better, because I think that's kind of what has gotten me at the Open the last few years."
That's the U.S. Women's Open she's referring to, where she has struggled in uncharacteristic ways. She's a player who likes tough courses but hasn't played well at a tournament that is known for just that.
In seven appearances in the Women's Open, Lewis has just one top-10 -- a tie for third in 2008. The past two years, she finished tied for 42nd and tied for 46th.
This year, June 19-22, the Women's Open will be played at Pinehurst No. 2 in North Carolina the week right after the men's U.S. Open is held there. Officials have done all the planning they can to try to make this "experiment" work, but the weather could still get in the way and make for some potentially adverse course conditions for the women.
Lewis a few years ago might not have dealt very well with that. Now she is ready for anything.
"Coming off of [the Texas tournament], it was pretty awesome -- more than anything, to win the way I did," she said of shooting a 64 on the last day. "I was pretty motivated going into that final round.
"My game is in a good place. There is just something in me that I don't give up. Even when I have a bad day, I find a way to shoot 1 or 2 under and keep myself in the tournament. I just don't have it in me to quit."