On the heels of her second 2012 victory, Stacy Lewis succeeded Cristie Kerr as the top-ranked American player on the LPGA tour. Currently ranked third in the world, the 27-year-old Texan talked recently with Golf.com about dealing with pressure, recovering from spinal fusion surgery and why major championships should stay in the U.S.
2011 was really a banner year for you: you won your first major, taking down Yani in the final round. Looking back, was that the most pressure you've ever felt on a golf course?
Yeah, for sure. It really didn't hit me until the last four holes. I mean, it was intense. You're not really sure how your body is going to react, or if you can really feel your hands or anything like that. I was playing well, which definitely helped. I wasn't really worried about where the ball was going or anything, but it was a lot of pressure.
You made your professional debut in 2008, and it seems like you've been improving steadily since then. What has changed specifically in your golf game over the past few years?
I've definitely gained some distance off the tee. That's all the game is now; it's all about how far you can hit it, and I think that's huge. A lot of it for me is just confidence, and knowing that I can contend week in and week out, and being comfortable seeing your name on the leaderboard and having the lead and just getting in that situation more.
There are two Americans in the top 10 in the world right now. There's a general perception that American women are underachieving on the LPGA tour. Why do you think that is?
First, I mean, there are so many good players all over the world now. Over the last couple of years, our tour has grown worldwide, and so you're seeing a lot of good players come from everywhere, and that's part of it. We're in a lull right now -- Cristie Kerr hasn't won, Paula[Creamer] hasn't won in a while, Michelle [Wie] hasn't won in a while, you get those three winning, especially if you get Michelle winning a tournament, that's going to completely change things for us. I don't know specifically what it is. I feel like we're working hard to get back, but there are just a lot of good players now.
What are your thoughts on the globalization of the LPGA? Do you think there should be a major in Asia?
As long as we're considered a U.S.-based tour, I don't think there should be a major there. I mean, I have no problem playing over there, I like going to Asia and things like that, but as long as we're a U.S. Tour, I think the majors should stay here at home, and we need to get more events in general here.
You must always get questions on your back surgery, but I'd like to know what that recovery process was like for you. You had to red shirt your first year of college golf at the University of Arkansas.
I had the surgery right after I graduated high school, so for six months, I couldn't bend or twist or lift over five pounds, so golf was out of the question. I went to school -- I think I was three months out of surgery -- so, I mean, just going to class every day and sitting in class for an hour, that was probably the hardest thing. But the good that I got out of it was that I went to practice every day because I still had to go and be there with the team, but I had to watch everyone else play and I got to sit with my coaches and go, why are they doing this, and why are they doing that? So it really taught me how to think my way around the golf course, and it also made me appreciate what I get to do.
Were you afraid that you would never recover, or that you would never be able to play at the level you once did?
Yeah, for sure. When the doctor told me that I would still be able to play golf, I was like, there's no way, there's something attached to your spine, there's just no way. But he said, you'll be able to do it. And my golf swing came back pretty naturally. It was more the mental struggle of trusting that nothing was going to break and that I wasn't going to mess it up, because if the rod breaks or something happens like that and you hit a nerve then you can't walk again. So that's what was going through my head when I was trying to hit golf balls for the first time.
Natalie Gulbis and Belen Mozo have recently gotten some extra attention for posing in the SI Swimsuit issue and ESPN's Body Issue, respectively. Is that something that you would ever consider?
I don't think so (laughs). That is not my thing. More power to them if they can do it and get up there in front of a camera, but that is not my thing.
What's your favorite way to wind down after a round?
Really, just to relax and hang out with my friends. When I'm home, I like to go fishing, go out on a boat, go paddle boarding. I love doing anything out on the water. If I need to get some frustration out, I'll usually go for a workout or something like that.
How often are you recognized? Are you able to live a normal life?
Somewhat. After I won in Mobile, I was at home, just at the mall just walking around, and somebody walks by, 'hey, congratulations on the win.' So actually, I've been getting recognized more, but I haven't been mobbed, where I can't do my normal thing. It's nice to be recognized, to know that people are watching what you're doing, and they're cheering for you and things like that.
What part of your game do you work on the hardest?
Probably short game. I've found that in my tournament wins, I've also had my best putting and chipping weeks. I think that's what wins golf tournaments, so that's what I work on.
Who are your best friends on tour?
Probably Brittany Lincicome and Natalie Gulbis. Brittany fishes too, and we stay together a lot. Our families are pretty close so we rent houses and do things like that. We come from a similar background, just your normal family, and not really brought up with all the glitz and the glamour. Natalie and I have gotten close over the last year or so. We kind of first got to know each other by comparing back problems (laughs). But we like to work out together a lot, and she's just really good to talk to if you need something.
You've already won a major championship. What helps you stay motivated every day?
Yeah, I got the major out of the way first, at least. I just want to get better every day. I think that's what ultimately keeps me motivated. The end goal, obviously, is becoming No. 1 in the world and challenging Yani [Tseng]. I've got to close that gap a little bit. There are always little goals you can go for, but right now it's just getting better every day and giving yourself a chance to win on Sunday.