Stacy Lewis was No. 33 in the Rolex Rankings when she went on maternity leave last year ahead of the birth of her first child, Chesnee Lynn, in October. By the time the two-time major champion and 12-time LPGA Tour winner returned to competition at the start of 2019, she had fallen out of the top 50. On April 17, the date entries closed for this year’s U.S. Women’s Open, she was ranked No. 65, which meant she was no longer exempt to compete in the championship.
Disappointed that her ranking prior to her maternity leave wasn’t taken into account, Lewis appealed to the USGA. And on Saturday, the association announced that it was giving Lewis a maternity exemption into this year’s championship at the Country Club of Charleston in South Carolina.
Additionally the USGA said it would be reviewing its maternity extension policy overall. “After an in-depth review of the new maternity policies of other sports organizations,” the association said in a statement, “we have decided to revisit our existing policy. Most notably, we are looking at the impact maternity leave has on our exemption categories.”
The USGA’s current maternity extension opportunity allows for players who have earned exemptions to defer them for a year. Brittany Lincicome and Sarah Jane Smith had both said they would do that, playing instead in 2020. Lincicome, however, is now reconsidering after the USGA said it would give her a spot in this year’s championship as well as in 2020. She is due Sept. 1 with this year’s U.S. Women’s Open set for May 30-June 2.
Lewis, who has played in the past 12 Women’s Opens, said that her recent dialogue with the USGA was positive. “I told them I’d love to help in the process of doing this,” Lewis told Golfweek regarding a review of the maternity policy. “It really sounds like they’ve realized it’s a much bigger fix than they can do in a week, but they seemed very committed to it.”
Lewis could have still earned a spot into the Women’s Open if she moved back inside the top 50 by May 27, or if she won an LPGA event prior to the championship. Otherwise, she would have had to go through qualifying.
This year is the last year that players inside the top 75 on the LPGA money list were also automatically exempted into the Women’s Open (the USGA is doing away with all exemptions tied to money lists starting in 2020). Ordinarily, this would have been another way that Lewis would have been able to earn an automatic spot into the major; she had finished no worse than 21st on the LPGA money list since 2010, but was 99th in 2018 after she stopped playing mid-season.