You might not know it, but the LPGA Tour is in good hands.
And when the top women’s golf tour in the world makes its first domestic stop of the year and visits the Valley on March 20-23 for the LPGA Founders Cup at the Wildfire Golf Club at JW Marriot Phoenix Desert Ridge Resort & Spa, you needn’t look any further than the event’s defending champion for proof.
Stacy Lewis, the No. 3 women’s golfer in the world and the top-ranked American, is an impressive individual. Her incredible talent on the course is matched by her off-the-course accomplishments and a genuine desire to pay the proper respect to the history of the game and do whatever she can to further the growth among young girls.
Lewis, who has a top-10 finish in each of her three starts this season, won the 2013 LPGA Founders Cup by overcoming a 2-stroke penalty on Saturday with a final-round 64 to win by 3 strokes over Ai Miyazato. In total, Lewis has eight LPGA career victories, including two major championships – the 2011 Kraft Nabisco Championship and 2013 Women’s British Open.
Lewis’ victory at Wildfire last year was one of her more-special wins.
“Pulling in the parking lot here (this year) gave me chills,” Lewis said. “I have so many good memories from here from last year.”
One reason was because of the reverence Lewis has for the incredible history of women’s golf and the fact that the Founders Cup puts such an emphasis on showcasing that history.
“This tournament is so special to our tour,” Lewis said. “I love that the first year we had this event we didn’t play for any money. We came out because we wanted to honor our founders.”
Lewis takes advantage of any chance she gets to talk about the importance of those that came before her. She also doesn’t hesitate to make sure that other current tour players are properly educated.
“I wouldn’t be able to do what I do without these former players,” she said. “I think when they come to a tournament to support this tour we need to be able to recognize who they are. So I give the younger players a hard time when they ask ‘who’s that?’ I say, ‘come on, you’ve got to learn these things.’
“It’s something that is really important to what I do. I want the founders to stay involved because I think they can teach these young girls just as much as we can. So I want to get them more involved. That’s why when this tournament came about, I was so excited.”
Lewis’ win last year also helped her accomplish something only a select few have ever had the privilege of doing: It put her at No. 1 in the world.
“I thought I’d get to Number 1 in the world at some time,” Lewis said, “but to do it the way I did – to do it so fast to start the year – was a bit of a shock.
“Not many players get to be Number 1 in the world. I was just enjoying the moment. I’m getting goose bumps just thinking about it.”
In typical Lewis fashion, she immediately took the opportunity make the victory about more than herself.
Surrounded by junior golfers from the Girls Golf program, which provides over 20,000 girls, ages 7-17, with the opportunity to learn golf, create friendships and experience competition in a supportive and fun environment, Lewis announced that she would be donating $50,000 from her winnings to Girls Golf.
“(Earlier in the week) I told myself that if I won, I was going to donate some of the money to Girls Golf,” Lewis said. “I was walking up 18 and those girls came in behind me and it was kinda like, ‘OK, I have to do this now.’
“It was more of a thank you to the founders and to the people that helped make this tournament possible and to celebrate with the kids a bit more.”
LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan said it was one of the moments from 2013 that really stood out in his mind. He was excited to see the future of women’s golf surrounding the top American player in women’s golf.
“We need to get this (Girls Golf) program going and keep it around long enough that these girls are going to be playing against me some day,” Lewis said. “So that’s the goal – to keep it around; to keep it going.”
Lewis enjoys giving back, and she looks at it as a responsibility for all professional athletes.
“I’m really lucky to be doing what I’m doing and I feel like it’s just a part of me to give back to other people,” she said. “I try to do things throughout the year, whether it’s with various charities, whatever it is.”
Perhaps Lewis has that outlook because she knows a little about needing some help. From the age of 11, she wore a back brace 18 hours per day for seven and a half years to correct curvature in her spine from scoliosis.
Lewis also knows about hard work and earning opportunities. She graduated from the University of Arkansas with a double degree in finance and accounting.
The list of superlatives seems to go on and on. But come March 20, the focus will return to what Lewis will be doing on the course: trying to defend her LPGA Founders Cup title.
“Defending is pretty tough” she said. “There are some extra obligations but it’s nice to come back to a course where you’ve got some nice memories. You just try to not put too much pressure on yourself.”
Something tells us Lewis is the kind of person who can handle it.
2014 LPGA FOUNDERS CUP INFO
What: LPGA Tour’s first U.S. event in 2014. The full-field, four-day event will be televised live on The Golf Channel all four days and features a $1.5 million purse, with $225,000 going to the champion. Stacy Lewis is the defending champion.
When: March 20-23.
Where: Wildfire Golf Club at JW Marriot Phoenix Desert Ridge Resort & Spa (5350 Marriott Dr, Phoenix, Arizona 85054).
Tickets: Fans can purchase “Good Any Day” tickets for $25 at all seven Van’s Golf Shop locations in the Valley and Tucson. Valley locations include stores in Gilbert (San Tan), Mesa (Apache), Phoenix (Camelback), Scottsdale (Frank Lloyd Wright) and Sun City; the two Tucson locations include the Crossroads and Oracle stores. Tickets also can be purchased online at LPGAFoundersCup.com.
Special golfmix offer: Save $20 on weekly Pioneer Pavilion tickets.
More information: LPGAFoundersCup.com.