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Stacy Lewis Is No. 1: What Does that Mean for American Golf?

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | On the evening of March 17, Stacy Lewis officially became the top-ranked female golfer on earth.

The occasion was largely symbolic. Lewis has been the best player on the LPGA Tour for not quite a year now and has won six times since the start of the 2012 season.

It took her that long to overtake Yani Tseng, who held the top spot for more than two years but hasn't won in a year, in part due to injury issues and in part perhaps due to the unending scrutiny that goes with the No. 1 position.

Lewis, the reigning LPGA Player of the Year, is just the second American to ascend to the top spot since the Rolex women's rankings were introduced in 2006. The first was Cristie Kerr, who led for five weeks in the summer of 2010.

Since then, Jiyai Shin and Ai Miyazato have taken their turns in the top slot before Tseng climbed the ladder early in 2011 and refused to let go for 109 consecutive weeks.

It's unlikely that Lewis will stay at the top as long as Tseng; the depth of talent on the LPGA Tour precludes that from happening.

A more likely scenario is one in which Lewis, Tseng, Miyazato, Na Yeon Choi, and perhaps one or two other players still to be determined, take turns at the head of the pack, like a team of cyclists taking turns setting the pace during a race.

What is far more significant is the impact Lewis' ascension will have on American golf, girls golf in particular.

Many have wondered why American players aren't as prominent on the LPGA Tour as they were two decades ago. A big part of the reason, in our view, is that many American girls will take up the game at a young age and then give it up at some point during their teen years.

In the era of Title IX, American girls with an interest in competitive athletics have options available to them that their mothers and grandmothers did not. A 15-year-old girl who today decides to focus on basketball or soccer might have concentrated on golf three decades ago.

In short, most of Korea's best female athletes are golfers. Many of America's best young athletes are not.

But Lewis may help change that, at least to some extent. As an American, she will attract attention from American sports fans, the avid golf fan and the casual observer alike.

Those who take a close look at Lewis will like what they see; she was worn her success extraordinarily well. Young girls who pick up a golf club will see Lewis as a role model, and some may decide to stick with the sport instead of pursuing other athletic alternatives.

Many fans are aware that Lewis, who recently turned 28, has faced the challenges of scoliosis and wore a back brace for a good part of her teen years.

What they may not be aware of is that she also has a college degree, which makes her somewhat unique on today's LPGA Tour. She is articulate and genuine; in short, the type of athlete fans will root for and connect with.

There's no way of knowing how long Lewis will stay on top of the world rankings. But we're quite sure she'll be a force in the game of golf, inside and outside the gallery ropes, for a very long time.

Rick Woelfel is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America and has covered the LPGA Tour for more than 25 years. He resides near Philadelphia.

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