Stacy Lewis, an 11-time LPGA Tour winner, is ready to push her game to the next level. After six runner-up finishes in 2015, along with eight other top-10s, the two-time major winner has a lot to look forward to in 2016 - including a trip to Rio for the Olympics. The Toledo native spent four weeks as the World No. 1 in 2013, and regained the top spot for another 21 weeks after a win at the 2014 ShopRite LPGA Classic. Lewis spoke to GOLF.com about her life on the LPGA Tour, everything from making lifelong friends to her strenuous travel schedule to the pay gap between male and female players.
You had a massive year in 2015. How would you personally rate your performance?
2015 was really good. I know I didn’t get the win -- I’m reminded about that all the time -- but it really was a good year. I played a lot of really solid golf, especially for the way that my golf swing felt. I just never really quite felt comfortable with it all year, but I found a way to get the ball in the hole and it turned out OK.
What are you working on this year to get yourself in the winner's circle?
I’d like to win, I’d like to accomplish these goals, but I just want to get comfortable on the golf course again. To be able to have a pin tucked over a bunker or tucked on the left side of the green and just to be able to swing at it and go for it. I was able to do that in the Bahamas for the first time in a really long time, and it just felt good to be myself out there again. My putting actually got better last year. Short game can always get better, [Laughs] so I think if I just get more comfortable over the ball, I think it should lead to some pretty good golf.
'Some pretty good golf' could get you to Rio this summer for the Olympics. Are you excited?
As we get closer to the Olympics and as you start to hear more about it, you get more and more excited for it. It’s going to be an honor for golf to be in the Olympics. To represent your country, just to be around the other athletes and to go to the other sports, it’s just going to be such a cool experience that no one can ever take it away from you. To be one of those first players to do that, that’s what it’s going to be about. Would I love to win a medal? Absolutely. But I’m not going to send my coach there. We’re just going to go, we’re going to have fun, we’re going to enjoy it and just go be another athlete, go to the closing ceremonies, go through the parade. I mean -- it’s just going to be so cool. I don’t know how else to describe it.
So even though you've represented the U.S. before in the Solheim Cup, this is such a heightened experience.
Right. What makes team events great -- it’s not on the golf course, or coming up 18 or whatever it is. It’s not that. It’s the stuff behind the scenes, hanging out with your teammates, that bonding time. That’s what you get in a Solheim Cup. And the Olympics will be a little bit different, but you’re still going to have those couple of people you’re going to be bonded with for the week. We’re going to do things together, go to the Olympic Village, go hang out with the other athletes, go to some basketball games, go to swimming, or whatever it is, just go and do other stuff -- and that’s what’s going to make the Olympic experience great.
Have you given any thought to the Zika virus that's spreading across Central and South America?
I have. I’ve been paying attention to the news these last few weeks, especially with the Zika virus. In Rio, they’ve had a lot of trouble with the water quality, and you see some athletes that have been down there getting sick already, so it’s definitely scary. It’s something that, unfortunately, we deal with almost every single week with traveling the world. It’s kind of the way it is. If stuff continues to get worse, I think you’re going to have to worry about your trip a little bit more, but I think they’re going to do everything they can in Rio to make it safe for everybody and make sure everybody’s there.
Tell me about what it was like to finally bring that Solheim Cup back to America.
That Solheim week, it was probably one of the most special weeks I’ve had on Tour. Just the way the team got along and the way everyone really bonded. I’ve been on past teams before, and I’ve never seen a team come together the way that we did on Sunday. Maybe it was driven by a controversy, maybe it wasn’t. Maybe it was rallying around Angela [Stanford] not winning a point. There were a lot of things we rallied around that last day. Just to be a part of it and see all the girls come together was really special.
If you had to pick between a major, a Solheim Cup and a gold medal, which would you choose?
That’s a hard question, but I’d probably have to take a major. Right now, it’s what careers are defined by. It’s what gets you in the Hall of Fame. It’s one of the first things people are going to say when they list your accomplishments — it’s majors. I think the Olympics are going to be kind of its own animal, it’s going to be a side thing. Everybody wants to win it, for sure, but I think majors are still going to be the most important. Each of those, to me, are their own separate entity. It’s hard to compare them.
On the topic of majors, is it time for a Women's Masters?
I’ve played at Augusta, and to have a Women’s Masters would be unbelievable. Are we there yet? Probably not. I don’t see it happening really anytime soon, but I could see it happening eventually. And who knows, if the ANA [Inspiration] continues to grow and keeps getting stronger, maybe we don’t even need a Women’s Masters. I think if we can get our own traditions and stay at a set number of majors and create some history there, you know, you don’t always need to piggyback what the guys are doing.
How can the LPGA grow the women's game and come out of the PGA Tour’s shadow?
It’s pretty frustrating to still see the huge gaps that we have in what the guys are paid and what we are paid, when really, we’re doing the same thing and the only difference is the TV numbers and the TV ratings. That’s really it. We’re probably actually hitting more fairways than the guys and more greens than the guys, you know? There are certain parts of the game that we actually do better. When I play with the guys a lot, ‘Do you ever miss a fairway?’ is usually what they say to me. Our games are pretty comparable, it’s just the exposure. That’s what our tour has to do, is get more exposure -- on TV, on network TV -- and over the last few years, we’re getting there. The Golf Channel has really helped grow our product, showcasing who we are. But it’s just changing people’s minds: going from men’s golf to watching women’s golf. We just need to change people’s minds, change their perspective that we’re really good players, we’re really good athletes. When we get people to our tournaments, that’s what they see. They experience that, they experience us. They get closer to us than they do to the guys. They get more access, they really get to know us. Once you get someone to a tournament, you have a fan for life. We need to grab the people that are just flipping through their TV on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon to turn to women’s golf. Those are the fans that we need to be picking up, and that’s where there’s room to grow.
So what’s something that people should know about being a female golf professional that people don’t know?
I think what people don’t know about us is just realizing the amount that we travel. We are back and forth and all over the place. A lot of the analysts are giving Jordan Spieth a lot of grief for traveling and playing all over the world, but that’s just what we do. I didn’t really think of it as that bad of a thing.
If there’s one thing you want to take away from your time on the LPGA Tour, what would it be?
I think the one thing you take away is the people you meet, and the experiences. I just feel like I’ve grown so much as a person since I’ve come out on Tour, coming out of my shell a little bit, and I’ve learned a lot over the last few years. I’ve learned how to handle playing well and how to handle not playing well when things don’t go your way. I feel like I’ve grown and become a different person because of being out here on Tour.