OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. – For Stacy Lewis the numbers have piled up like dry leaves in the wind on an autumn afternoon. Since the last of her 11 LPGA victories, she’s played 76 events without ultimate success. A dozen times she’s finished second during that stretch. And to conflate the frustration she’s not played badly at all.
Coming into this week’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, where Lewis stalks her third major, she is sixth in scoring at 69.17, lower than the 69.53 she averaged in winning the Vare Trophy in 2014. Most impressively, through it all, Lewis has remained a dynamic leader on tour and an inspirational figure in women’s and girl's golf.
When the LPGA and the PGA of America hatched the idea for the Women’s PGA Championship in 2014, it was Lewis who was a crucial cog in bringing one of her endorsement partners, KPMG, on board. And she didn’t stop there. Lewis argued to rotate the event to venues that have held men’s majors and she stressed the importance of having network TV on the weekend to enhance exposure.
“I was definitely part of the idea of all of this,” Lewis said Wednesday at Olympia Fields, where the KPMG Women’s PGA starts Thursday. “I’m proud of getting my sponsors involved with the tour. I’m proud of my involvement. I’m proud I brought them to the table. It feels big. It feels like a major.”
While Lewis says that, as a player, nothing surpasses winning a tournament as an accomplishment, but that the growth of the KPMG Women’s PGA has been especially satisfying.
“And now this major is locked in until through 2023,” she said, referring to the sponsorship extension announced a day earlier by KPMG and the PGA of America. “I wanted to make sure that these girls coming along have a place to play and now they do for the next six or seven years.”
Lewis is a shining example to all players of how to give back to the game. Since 2014, she has been one of the tour’s player ambassadors for LPGA*USGA Girls Golf, the grow-the-game program that now has more than 60,000 girls across the globe. And Lewis, a proud grad of the University of Arkansas, has been an outspoken advocate of staying in school, championing both the value of an education and the experience gained from women’s college game.
Lewis was also instrumental in creating the KPMG Stacy Lewis Junior All-Star Invitational, a unique American Junior Golf Association event in which boys and girls compete at the same venue. It was held last week in Fayetteville, Ark., the week of the LPGA Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.
The burden Lewis has shouldered for both the tour and her country has been significant. From 2011 through 2014, a span during which she picked up all 11 of the her LPGA victories, including the 2011 ANA Inspiration and the 2013 Ricoh Women’s British Open, Stacy was the face of America in women’s golf, an unlikely leader who fought her way onto the tour after a lengthy childhood battle with scoliosis.
She’s been the only Yank to win the Rolex Player of the Year since 1994, capturing it in 2012 and 2014, and the only American to lead the LPGA money list since 1993, taking that honor in 2014. And as golf returned to the Olympics at Rio in 2016, she was the best of the three players from the United States, finishing T-4, one stroke out of a playoff for the bronze medal.
Lewis, who once held the top spot in the Rolex Ranking but is now No. 17, is in many ways a victim of her own success, not as a player but as an advocate for the women’s game. Since her last win, almost exactly three years ago, on June 27, 2014, at the Walmart Championship, the LPGA has gotten so much deeper in talent.
“Is it harder to dominate now than it was five or six years ago. Absolutely,” she said. “Does everyone hit it far. Absolutely. Does everyone putt it great. Absolutely.”
The run to start this season of 15 different winners in the first 15 events, ended by So Yeon Ryu last week, was the longest such streak to begin a season since 1991, when there were 16 different winners. And among those champions were names like Beth Daniel, Patty Sheehan, Amy Alcott, Meg Mallon, Betsy King and Nancy Lopez – Hall of Famers all.
It was a Golden Age on the LPGA and the tour seems to be embarking on another such era. Thirteen of the 16 wins this season were by players currently in the top-15 of the Rolex Rankings. And Lewis is looking to add her name to that list.
At just 32 years old, Stacy certainly has plenty of competitive years ahead. But you know she’d like nothing more than to return to the winner’s circle at Olympia Fields this week, in a tournament sponsored by one of her corporate partners, and in a tournament in which she played a huge role in creating. It would complete a perfect symmetry.