New world view

Lewis, No. 1 again, out to build better LPGA

By: Bob Holt
Published: Wednesday, June 4, 2014
Stacy Lewis celebrates her win after a putt on the 18th hole of the final round at the ShopRite LPGA Classic golf tournament in Galloway Township, N.J., Sunday, June 1, 2014. Lewis shot 16-under-par, 197 to win the tournament. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
Stacy Lewis celebrates her win after a putt on the 18th hole of the final round at the ShopRite LPGA Classic golf tournament in Galloway Township, N.J., Sunday, June 1, 2014. Lewis shot 16-under-par, 197 to win the tournament. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

FAYETTEVILLE -- Stacy Lewis said it's hard to measure how far the LPGA Tour has come in recent years.

The former NCAA champion from the University of Arkansas just knows that she wants to help it grow even more as the top-ranked women's golfer in the world.

"I don't think you can even compare it," Lewis said Tuesday during a teleconference. "I feel like we're a completely different tour than we were a few years ago, when a lot of people really were writing us off."

LPGA Tour events have increased to 32 this year from 23 three years ago, and in the past year total prize money has increased from $48.8 million to $56.5 million.

Lewis, who moved to the top of the women's world rankings after winning the ShopRite LPGA Classic last weekend in Galloway, N.J., was among the speakers last Thursday at a news conference in New York where it was announced the 2015 KPMG Women's PGA Championship will be televised by NBC with total prize money of $3.5 million and played in Rye, N.Y.

"We're raising the bar," said Lewis, whose sponsors include KPMG, an audit, tax and advisory firm. "We're having to say no to people because we have bigger offers for tournaments."

Lewis' assent to the top of the world rankings has a lot to do with the LPGA's growth in the United States. Last spring she became the first American woman to be ranked No. 1 since Beth Daniel in 1994. Now she's replaced South Korea's Inbee's Park at No. 1 for the second time.

"I take a lot of pride in that," Lewis said. "I enjoy the business side of the tour. I enjoy seeing what goes on behind the ropes."

Lewis, 29, graduated from Arkansas in 2008 with a bachelor's degree in finance and accounting.

"As a top player, I think we have a responsibility to help grow the tour and to help spread the message of how good we are, but also what can help those companies in the business world, too," she said. "It's fun to see how I've progressed as a person into this role."

Lewis, who has 10 victories since joining the LPGA Tour in 2008, said she has come a long way as public speaker since her days at Arkansas.

"I think back to when I first got to college, I was very, very shy," she said. "I didn't speak unless I was spoken to, is what my coaches would say. I've had to learn how to give speeches, learn how to be that person in front of the camera.

"It's definitely been an adjustment. I've had to learn the hard way a few times. Nobody's perfect."

Lewis said she still isn't completely comfortable with being the face and voice of the LPGA Tour.

"But I'm getting there," she said.

Lewis could be ranked No. 1 when she plays in the Wal-Mart Northwest Arkansas Championship on June 27-29 in Rogers.

"If I'm No. 1 in the world coming to Arkansas, obviously it would be huge for the tournament," she said. "But it would be fun more than anything just to get back to see my coaches and some of the girls on the team and just hang out with them.

"That's my favorite part of what I get to do in Arkansas, helping those girls become better players."

Inbee held the world No. 1 ranking for 59 weeks before Lewis grabbed it last weekend with her second LPGA Tour title in the last month.

"The win was what I was looking for going into the week," Lewis said. "The ranking was just an added bonus. I want to win trophies. I was just happy to do that on Sunday."

Lewis said she is looking forward to holding on to the No. 1 ranking for longer than four weeks this time around and has learned a lot in the past year about managing her time and obligations off the golf course.

"It was just crazy," she said of her first experience as world's top-ranked player. "I barely got to sit back and enjoy it and say, 'Wow, I really am at No. 1 in the world.' I need to enjoy it more. I need to say no to a few things and make my life a little bit easier. I'm just more prepared now."

Last week was a good example of how Lewis has learned to balance her career. She was in New York on Thursday for news conferences at the NBC Saturday Night Live studio, then over the next three days shot 16-under-par 197 to win a tournament.

"I was almost relieved when that announcement was over with, just because we'd been talking about it for so long and I knew it was coming," she said. "I was ready to go play."

Lewis doesn't see being ranked No. 1 in the world as added pressure.

"I put enough pressure on myself already," she said. "I'm not going to worry about the rankings. If I stay there for four weeks or 20 weeks or 50 weeks, whatever it is, any time you spend at No. 1 in the world is going to be great.

"I'm just going to go out there and get back to work this week and try to win a golf tournament. If I keep playing like I am, I feel like I'm going to be there a long time."

Sports on 06/04/2014