Life can change in an instant. We’ve all heard the saying before, but for LPGA star Stacy Lewis the last 12 months have been a year full of change.
The first decade of Lewis’ career could only be described as a meteoric success. Twelve LPGA victories, two major championships and a world No. 1 ranking for 25 consecutive weeks.
Now 34 years old, Lewis is still competing on the LPGA Tour but has faced many challenges over the past year. This week a back injury forced Stacy to withdraw from the Solheim Cup. It’s just the latest challenge she’s faced since returning to golf after the birth of her daughter Chesnee.
Life, golf, motherhood… has become a balancing act for the Tour veteran, and while being a mom has been her greatest win to date, it’s also forced her to adjust her golf career.
SI.com’s Ryan Asselta recently caught up with Stacy who talked about the challenges of being a professional athlete while also being a mom, and the equal pay debate that’s been raging in professional sports.
RA: You're back on Tour this season after the birth of your daughter Chesnee. How has it been getting your game back in gear while adjusting to life as a Mom?
SL: Well, my game is not where I want it. It’s been trending in the right direction, but I'd say that coming back has been a lot slower of a process than I thought it was going to be. Just trying to get my body back in shape and getting the game and the timing and rhythm and all that kind of stuff back, has been hard.
RA: What’s been tougher, the physical challenge of coming back or the mental and emotional side?
SL: The physical has been the biggest challenge so far. I thought, you know I’d come back and in a few months I'd be fine. No big deal. And it's been hard. I've actually lost too much weight, between the energy of taking care of Chesnee and how busy I am every day. So, trying to actually gain weight and get some muscle back on me so that I have more energy and more stamina has been a challenge.
And then, you know, your golf swing requires a lot of legs and a lot of hips and my hips got a little messed up having a baby! (laughter)
RA: Did your swing change while you were pregnant?
SL: It did yeah. When I played pregnant, I had to kind of get ahead and get further away from the golf ball and kind of swing flatter. But, once I gave birth and the weight came off, the swing kind of went back to what it is normally.
RA: How about the emotional side of things? How has it been for you being back on the course and on tour, while being a Mom?
SL: Well, it's been different. Myself and my golf game is not number one in my life anymore. Chesney is definitely No. 1. It has been an adjustment. Daycare is great but your priorities have changed. I'm more worried about her and her health versus what I shot that day. You forget a bad round immediately when I pick her up from daycare and see her smile. It’s certainly helped me move on from bad rounds quicker. I feel like I kind of knew what I was getting myself into though. I've learned to function on a lot less sleep than I've ever gotten. but I wouldn't change it for the world.
RA: Is Chesnee with you most weeks out on Tour?
SL: Yes! She’s traveled with me to every tournament I’ve played in since I had her. She’s made a couple of trips to California and Arkansas. She’s already taken more than 25 flights! We’re kind of tracking her mileage to see how far she goes in her first year.
RA: You’ve had 12 career LPGA Tour wins and two major championships. You’ve been the No. 1 player in the world. Can you return to that form, and maybe more importantly would you want to return to that status, now that your life has changed so much?
SL: That’s really the question is “Do I want to?” I know what it takes to get there, and I know the amount of time it would take and the sacrifices and truthfully, I'm not really willing to do that.
Can I can get myself to be able to win tournament and win majors? Absolutely. But the number one in the world part, you just have to play so many tournaments. You have to play around the world. You have to basically sacrifice everything. And I did that for four or five years and was able to accomplish a lot of great things, but I missed out on a lot of things with my family and I missed out on a lot of things personally that I don't want to miss out on anymore.
RA: How about female athletes in general? How complex is it for women to try and perform at a certain level that's expected of you. To play well, earn money, satisfy sponsors while being either pregnant or a new mom?
SL: I don’t know the exact answer to that, but it’s extremely hard. I mean, for a lot of women having and raising kids is their job. That is their full-time job. And so, then you throw in trying to travel and trying to perform at the highest level, it’s basically like having two full time jobs. Then you consider sponsor money and how it’s related to your performance, even though your trying to come back from having a baby and get your body right. It’s a complex issue. Hopefully you have good people on your side that support you through the whole process.
RA: The LPGA kind of went through a baby boom of sorts over the last year or two here. Yourself, Suzanne Patterson, Brittany Lincicome, Gerina Piller. Do the moms try and stick together on tour?
SL: Yeah definitely. Especially Gerina and I. We are good friends and our kids are exactly six months apart. So, I've been able to learn a lot from her cause she's a little bit ahead of me. Just having somebody going through similar things like “Hey I only got a few hours of sleep” or “Hey I got sick”. It’s a big help going through it all together.
RA: The topic of equal pay for female athletes, has been at the forefront of many debates over the last year. Is there progress being made right now, when it comes to equal pay or, are we still pretty far behind where you'd like to see it?
SL: I think we're still pretty far behind. Especially with PGA Tour purses. The winner will make as much as our entire purse! The percentage we make is so much less. Tennis is the only sport that the men and women are making the same amount of money, and it’s only in the majors. So, I feel like we are still pretty far apart. The big challenge I see right now for women, especially those who are having kids, is the sponsorship side of things. Whether or not companies are honoring contracts while we are having kids. We want to be treated the same as the guys, yet our contracts have to be written differently because of pregnancy and maternity time. It’s a big issue.
RA: Your primary sponsors were very supportive of you. Does more need to be done either on the tour side, or from agents to protect you guys?
SL: My initial thought was, this should be written into the contracts. But then I start to worry that any type of pregnancy or maternity clause might deter a company from sponsoring me.I think it will boil down to whether or not a sponsor wants to support the athlete or not. I think most would. Especially with so many women being elevated in business and CEO positions. I think we’re turning in the right direction but there’s still a lot that needs to be done.