With her win last week at the RR Donnelley Founders Cup, American Stacy Lewis became only the second American woman to reach No. 1 on the Rolex Rankings.
Christie Kerr was the first. She reached the No. 1 spot on three different occasions in 2010 for a total of six weeks.
The Rolex Rankings were established in February, 2006 to recognize the top women golfers in the world. The rankings are sanctioned by the five main women’s professional golf tours around the world, the LPGA, Ladies European Tour, LPGA of Japan, LPGA of Korea and Australian Ladies Professional Golf.
Annika Sorenstam won her first LPGA event at the 1995 U.S. Women’s Open. She dominated the LPGA until she retired at the end of the 2008 season. She was the first woman to be ranked No. 1 when the list began.
Lorena Ochoa ascended to the top spot when Sorenstam retired and held it for two years until she announced her retirement in 2010.
Jiyai Shin, Ai Miyazato, and Christie Kerr took turns holding the No. 1 ranking throughout 2010. 22-year-old Yani Tseng became the top ranked women’s golfer in February, 2011, and held it for 109 weeks.
Asians and European golfers have dominated the LPGA for more than 20 years. Stacy Lewis is the first American-born golfer that has the game and determination to stay at the top for some time.
The current LPGA Tour Commissioner, Michael Whan, has done a masterful job growing the LPGA, especially in Asia and Europe. He has added several tournaments to the LPGA schedule over the past few years.
With only 17 of the 28 events on the 2013 LPGA schedule being held on U.S. soil, the LPGA needs to add more events here at home. That task will become exponentially easier for Commissioner Whan with an American player at the top of the Rolex Rankings.
Stacy Lewis is the only American woman ranked in the Top 10 and there are only five American women ranked in the Top 25 on the Rolex Rankings. Lewis’ gaining the No. 1 spot raises the awareness of women’s golf in the United States, but Paula Creamer, Michelle Wie, Lexi Thompson and the other young American lady professionals need to get to the winners circle a little more often.
Lewis struggled with scoliosis as a teenager and was forced to wear a full body brace for about seven years. Competing against the best lady golfers in the world is a piece of cake compared to battling a physical ailment as a child.
Lewis won the 2012 LPGA Player of the Year by winning four tournaments and posting 16 top-10 finishes last year. She won her first LPGA event in 2007, while still a member of the University of Arkansas golf team, although it was rain shortened and declared an unofficial event.
Perhaps a harbinger of things to come was Lewis out-dueling, then world No. 1, Yani Tseng, to win her first major title at the 2011 Kraft Nabisco.
Lewis has been a fighter her whole life. She will embrace the pressure of being the world’s best golfer and revel in the challenge of competing with the depth of talent that will be trying to knock her off that lofty perch.
She understands the demands of being the world’s best and also has the desire to remain there. She is a grinder that has the talent to stay at the top for a long time.
An American at the top of the Rolex Rankings means more media attention and buzz for women’s golf. More media means potential corporate sponsors will be lured to the women’s game, which in turn correlates to more events and bigger purses for the players.
More exposure in the United States also means that more young girls can envision the possibility of pursuing golf as their sport of choice.
The next Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, or Ben Hogan may just be a young girl just picking up a golf club.