It was a win that she hoped would create a ripple effect in her career, a big first step to being recognized as one of the finest American golfers.
But instead Lewis became known for her incredible “back” story.
It seemed improbable that someone who was diagnosed with scoliosis as a child, forced to wear a back brace for nearly eight years before undergoing surgery to insert a rod and several screws into her back would go on to become a major champion on the LPGA Tour. It was the story that was printed in golf publications around the world and one that may have overshadowed her spectacular golf stats.
It took nearly a year for Lewis to become more than just her medical condition.
But she finally did it.
Now in the midst of her fifth year on Tour, Lewis sits at No. 2 in the Rolex Rankings as the top-ranked American golfer. She held the No. 1 spot for four weeks after her latest win at the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup. She’s also the reigning Rolex Player of the Year and a seven-time tournament champion with four victories in 2012 and two at the beginning of the 2013 season. She also ranks in the top-5 in ten statistical categories this season.
The best part about being in her position? She said it’s “finally getting recognized for playing well.”
As Lewis reflects on her incredible journey and her rapid rise to the top, she no longer asks herself “why me?” but rather “why not?” Lewis claims her success is merely a result of hard work paying off.
“I've always kind of been the underdog,” said Lewis. “I didn't have all the expectations everyone else had (when I first came out on Tour) like Michelle Wie and Lexi Thompson did. I think that's really helped me get to where I am. I like working hard.”
It has now been a full year since Lewis took over as the top ranked American on the LPGA Tour, as she returns as defending champion to the ShopRite LPGA Classic this week where she claimed that spot last year. With a grin on her face, she admits her success over the past year still leaves her in utter shock sometimes.
“It’s crazy to look back on how far I’ve come in a year,” said Lewis. “It’s been a whirlwind. It’s been kind of a quick rise to being really busy and asked to do a lot of things. I never imagined that I would win the Player of the Year or even get to World No. 1. That was never even on the radar. So it's just amazing how ‑‑ now looking for my eighth win, I was just looking for my third this time last year, so not many people can say that.”
In the last three years, Lewis has tallied 36 top-10 finishes and currently leads in the category in 2013 with eight so far this season. She said playing “stress-free” golf has helped change her mentality throughout the years.
“I think my mindset has changed to actually believe in my confidence and believe that I can win,” said Lewis. “I don’t have to play my best to give myself a chance to win every week. During my first couple years on tour I thought I had to play perfect to even give myself a chance to win, and that’s not the case at all.
“I think that’s one thing that’s really changed is that I just kind of paddle through those not so good days to get myself to one- or two-under par roun where you still give yourself a chance to win without even playing your best golf. I think that’s how you finish in the top-10.”
Now having accomplished so much in so little time, the University of Arkansas grad fully embraces her position on the LPGA Tour and feels the most pride in knowing she is helping mold the next generation of female golfers.
“Being the top American it’s really cool, but it’s even cooler to see people coming out on Tour and looking up to me and asking me questions,” said Lewis. “I’m just trying to be there for them and help them in any way I can. I think you’re seeing a lot of young players coming out of college and I love that more than anything.
“These girls see that you can go to school and get your degree and come out and be successful. I’m just trying to be a role model and just show people that you don’t have to turn pro at 18 or 19 and you can still be No. 1 in the world.”
So, what’s next for the 28-year-old? She has her eyes on clinching her second major championship title.
“More than anything I want to be in contention at the majors,” said Lewis. “I want to give myself a chance to win one of those. The two most important tournaments to me this year are Solheim Cup and U.S. Women’s Open. The U.S. Open has kind of been my nemesis these last few years and the tournament I’ve finished the worst at, so it would be nice to be in contention there.”
Whether defying the odds in the medical world or stunning the nation with spectacular golf, Lewis has established herself in the golfing world as an ambassador to the game and an inspiration to many.