GALLOWAY, N.J. - Since she won the 2012 ShopRite LPGA Classic, Stacy Lewis has been making history. She was the first U.S. player in 18 years to win LPGA player of the year and only the second American to be No. 1 since the women's world rankings were introduced in 2006.
Note the key word here: American.
Despite the presence of outstanding players from the United States such as Juli Inkster, Cristie Kerr, and Paula Creamer, Americans had been shut out of the top for quite some time until Lewis, 28, ascended. She has won six LPGA tournaments in the last 13 months.
For Lewis, who has excelled despite battling scoliosis and wearing a back brace from age 11 to 18, the honors have been special.
"I don't think I quite realized how long it had been for an American player," Lewis said Monday at a luncheon to publicize the 2013 ShopRite event later this month at Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club. "Every award that I've gotten over the last year is 'The first American to do it.'
"It's been a long time coming for the Tour and we needed it. We've lost some events here in the U.S. We have plenty of momentum outside the United States, but we haven't had it here. I think hopefully it shows the kids that are in college that you don't have to turn pro when you're 18. . . . You can work your way up and play your best golf in your late 20s."
Lewis was a four-time all-American at Arkansas before joining the Tour after graduating in 2008. She toiled in relative obscurity until making her first win a major, the 2011 Kraft Nabisco Championship, and then took off.
Beth Daniel was the last American before Lewis to win LPGA player of the year in 1994. After Lewis won the LPGA Founders Cup in March in Phoenix, she rose to No. 1 in the Rolex World Golf Rankings, joining Kerr as the only Americans to reach the top.
"After winning here last year, I moved to third in the world and I thought maybe I'd get to No. 1 eventually," Lewis said. "Not even a year later, to get to No. 1, I don't even know what to say. Wearing a back brace and having a rod and screws inserted in your back, I don't think you're supposed to be doing what I'm doing every day. I'm just thankful."
Lewis is No. 1 among residents of this community in another respect. She was playing in Japan in late October when she saw a CNN report from Atlantic City about Hurricane Sandy and sprung into action, donating $20,000 to the Community FoodBank of New Jersey.
"Just seeing what was going on, it's a part of me and I wanted to help," she said. "I didn't do it for the recognition. I just wanted to help people and help the community we play in because they really are our home."