April 3 2013, Mick ElliottRANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. -- American Stacy Lewis, the No. 1 ranked women’s golfer in the world, arrives at this week’s Kraft Nabisco Championship with the confidence and aplomb that comes only with success.
“I’m just comfortable out there,” she said Tuesday. “I don’t know, I just feel really relaxed right now.”
Consider it fair warning.
The self-described “jeans, tee-shirt and flip-flops” kind of girl made herself the new LPGA gold standard last month, breaking Yani Tseng’s 109-week stronghold on the world’s top ranking after back-to-back wins at the HSBC Women’s Champions and the RR Donnelley Founders Cup. And now, the 28-year-old Texan, a seven-time career winner, is back at Mission Hills Country Club for the season’s first major championship, which just happens to be where in 2011 she claimed her first LPGA title.
What’s not to enjoy about being No. 1?
“I mean, I think if you can't talk about it you obviously aren't comfortable being there,” Lewis said. “You know, I wanted to be in this position.
“It wasn't something that teeing it up the first round I said, ‘I want to be No. 1 in the world,’ because you can't do that. (But) it's something that I wanted to be. If you're comfortable talking about it, then I think you're comfortable being there.”
Make no mistake, on the way to becoming the first American to hold the No. 1 ranking since Cristie Kerr in 2010, Lewis could not be more at ease short of flipping back the La-Z-Boy.
Along with the two victories, she has two additional top 10s in five tournament appearances. She leads the LPGA in 11 statistical categories, including scoring average.
“I think she's got a tiny bit of a temper, which she uses to her advantage in the game,” observed LPGA hall of famer Judy Rankin, who will be on this week’s Golf Channel broadcast team. “I can sometimes see her just boiling but she does not let it affect the next shot.
“You can read it in her face and you can see it with her body language but she gets over it. That's what a good player has to do, because you're never going to do everything exactly the way you want to. I actually think that's kind of the mark of somebody who is completely engrossed and invested in their game,”
Certainly, Lewis has no harsher critic than herself. Part of that grading curve, however, is the responsibility she says she feels.
Last week, with a break in the LPGA schedule, instead of sitting home and resting, Lewis traveled to Greensboro, N.C. to attend a college tournament and support her Arkansas Razorbacks. He’s regularly front row and center at off-the-course events promoting the LPGA.
“I don't think about it, but do I realize that being in the position I'm in that I am representing the tour,” she said. “I'm representing my sponsors. I’m representing the tour right now for American golf, we need a face right now. We need people to kind of get aboard and come out and watch us play and see what we have out here.
“I think there are a lot of young Americans playing really good golf right now that people don't know about. I think as a tour we're moving in the right direction.”
And the most impressive thing about the way Lewis is playing golf is that she’s playing golf at all.
It’s a story that has been often told in LPGA circles, yet, one that many people outside of golf never hear.
Lewis suffers from scoliosis, a curving of the spine. She learned of her malady at age 11 and for the next 7 1/2 years wore a back brace 18 hours a day, hoping to avoid surgery.
She did not. Shortly after graduating from high school, where she was a standout golfer despite the cumbersome truss, Lewis underwent surgery, risking the possibility of paralysis.
Two metal rods, each about 6 inches long, were placed into her vertebra. Five screws hold them in place. For six months, she could not bend, twist or lift.
Nonetheless, she went on to star in college golf for the University of Arkansas.
“I think her physical challenges growing up and getting to be an adult in this game have given her an extremely strong will and probably a certain ‑‑ you know, a certain second‑chance kind of joy that a lot of people who have been healthy all their years growing up haven't experienced,” Rankin said.
Lewis can’t count the number of questions she has answered regarding her medical plight. And, she’ll admit, at one point the persistent fascination with the past was wearing thin. Then she reconsidered.
“I think when I first came out on tour I had already kind of told it a lot,” she said. “ I was getting tired of telling it. I realize now if one more person hears my story that didn't hear it before, then I need to tell it.
“I realize I'm in a position that there are a lot of people that look up to me, a lot little kids wearing back braces watching what I'm doing. I don't mind telling the story. It does get monotonous at times, but if one more person is inspired by it, it's worth it.”