A year ago, Stacy Lewis led a back-nine charge that altered the LPGA's landscape for good
By Alex Myers
Remember Inbee Park's pursuit of the Grand Slam? Stacy Lewis sure does.
A year ago, the South Korean was dominating golf in a way few have until her run ended at the Ricoh Women's British Open. Park's stumble at St. Andrews gave way to Lewis, and Lewis hasn't looked back.
"A wake-up call for me was Inbee winning those three majors last year," said Lewis, who will defend her title at Royal Birkdale this week. "I told myself 'I've got to get busy here.' "
Lewis won at the Old Course in dramatic fashion by birdieing the final two holes -- including an instant classic 5-iron to three feet on No. 17 -- and she returns to the Open ranked No. 1 thanks to three more wins in 2014. It's exactly the position the 29-year-old has always wanted to be in.
"My goal is to be No. 1 in the world; why isn't everyone trying for that?" Lewis said. "I guess some people aren't welcoming of the pressure, but I want to be there. I want to be in the spotlight and to have the pressure."
Of course, Lewis has shared the spotlight with plenty of other big names on the LPGA Tour this year. While the PGA Tour has had a mixed bag of surprise winners, the list of LPGA champs has been a who's who of women's golf. Just look at the winners of the 16 events so far this season: Lewis (3 wins), Michelle Wie (2), Jessica Korda (2), Karrie Webb (2), Anna Nordqvist (2), Lexi Thompson (1), Paula Creamer (1), Lydia Ko (1), Inbee Park (1), and Lizette Salas (1).
The two major championships, the Kraft Nabisco and U.S. Open, were particularly compelling with Thompson topping Wie in the final group in Rancho Mirage and Wie holding off a charging Lewis at Pinehurst a week after the men's U.S. Open there was devoid of drama. The emergence of young American stars such as Wie and Thompson has been a welcomed storyline for women's golf -- even for Lewis.
"It's been great to see. The past few years I've been beating my head against the wall saying American golf is in a great place. I saw the talent. I could see this coming," said Lewis, who mentioned a blowout loss at the Solheim Cup as a turning point. "It's really cool to see young players break out and great to see them winning. . . . When Michelle or Lexi plays better, it pushes me."
LPGA commissioner Mike Whan couldn't have scripted the 2014 season any better. So what would he like to see this week?
How about Lewis picking up a third major? Or how about Lydia Ko, the 17-year-old phenom, getting her first? Or maybe another duel between the year's first two major winners, Thompson and Wie?
The ladies go first at this Open. And with the way this season has gone, don't be surprised if they upstage the men.