Kohler, Wis. – Stacy Lewis entered the 2012 season intent on becoming one of the top-ranked players in the world and worthy of inclusion on a list of the best American players.
With two victories and nine top-10 finishes this year to add to her breakthrough win at the 2011 Kraft Nabisco, Lewis, 27, has accomplished one of her goals. Born in Toledo, Ohio, The Woodlands, Texas, resident is the top-ranked American in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings and No. 2 overall behind Yani Tseng heading into the 67th U.S. Women’s Open that begins Thursday at Blackwolf Run.
But you knew that, right? Right?
“I certainly have felt like I've been one of the best players in the world, and even over the last year I felt like I have been but haven’t gotten the recognition,” the soft-spoken Lewis said Wednesday. “When everyone talks about the top American players, they'd always talk about Paula [Creamer] and Cristie [Kerr], and I was never thrown into the mix. My goal coming into this year was to get my name in that mix and get people to see that I am one of the top American players, and that's really motivated me.”
Creamer and Kerr have something Lewis doesn’t, and that’s a U.S. Women’s Open title. Lewis can turn a breakthrough season into a career-defining one if she can join them as Americans who have won their national championship.
Ah, but here’s the catch: with the game growing exponentially on a global scale, there hasn’t been an abundance of U.S. winners. Since 2000, only five U.S. women have won the Open, with Meg Mallon in 2004, Hilary Lunke in ’03 and Juli Inkster in ’02 joining Kerr and Creamer, who won in 2007 and 2010, respectively.
Lewis nearly broke through just after completing an All-America career at the University of Arkansas. As a newly minted pro, Lewis, fresh off a 5-0-0 performance at the Curtis Cup Match in St. Andrews, Scotland, was the 54-hole leader in the 2008 championship at Interlachen Country Club in Edina, Minn., before a final-round 78 left her tied for third behind winner Inbee Park and Helen Alfredsson.
“That was definitely a learning experience, figuring out how to deal with all of the commotion that went along with being in contention,” she said.
In 2011 at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, an opening 68 gave Lewis the first-round lead, but she slowly dropped down the board to finish joint 34th.
“I look back to last year's U.S. Open. I was doing really well through about a round‑and‑a‑half, and then kind of the middle of the tournament … my attitude got in the way,” Lewis admitted. “I was kind of trying to force some things. I would get upset over some bad shots and kind of really get down on myself. So that's something I've been working on this year, is to stay a little bit more level, and especially at a U.S. Open you have to stay patient. So that's one thing I'll look to this week.”
Patience isn’t something foreign to Lewis. She played all four years at Arkansas, led the USA to victory in the Curtis Cup and made sure she was prepared before turning professional.
“She did it the right way. She was patient with how she wanted her career to unfold,” said Mallon, a two-time U.S. Women’s Open champion and captain of the 2013 U.S. Solheim Cup team. “She knows how to pace herself. But she’s very intense, more than she lets on, and that patience doesn’t always come through on the golf course.
“We’ve talked about it. Stacy has the perfect mentality for the U.S. Open. She knows her own game. She knows what she can do. I expect her to win this championship one day, but it all comes down to not getting ahead of herself.”
Lewis comes into this week having just gotten her head on straight, at least as it pertains to her golf swing. She has been working diligently with her instructor, Joe Hallett, to correct a flaw. “It was just the timing, the tempo,” she explained. “I tend to get really fast and really out in front of it. So I was just trying to slow things down a little bit. I don't know, just the timing of it finally clicked.”
Eventually, fans will begin to appreciate Lewis and recognize her for her game. But that’s still up to her. The rankings can be as fickle as fans, and the continuing development of younger players is a source of increasing pressure.
“It made me kind of realize last week with Ai [Miyazato] winning, she went to No. 3. I've been so focused on trying to get to Yani,” Lewis said. “There's always somebody that's going to come up behind you that wants to beat you. You have to put that pressure on yourself to just keep getting better, because you know there's somebody out there working just as hard as you are.”
Lewis doesn’t want to be outworked by anyone. She figures that dividends will be derived from such toil eventually. She’ll reach the summit. And everyone will know she has reached it.
“I just really want to go out there and play good golf and be known for the golf part of it,” Lewis said. “I think the more I win, the more I'm up in contention; I think that will take care of it.”
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.