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Singapore Swing: Lewis sets sights on successful HSBC defence at Sentosa

 20131216_Stacy-Lewis_portrait_615World No. 3 STACY LEWIS kick-started a successful 2013 with her first victory at the HSBC Women’s Champions in Singapore and is looking forward to returning to Sentosa Golf Club in February for “the tournament everyone wants to win”.

 

Interview: SportAsia  Portrait: AFP

 

After a sensational six months, Stacy Lewis is arguably in the form of her life and already gearing up for a 2014 LPGA Tour that starts with events in the Bahamas, Australia, Thailand and Singapore, where the American will defend her HSBC Women’s Champions title.

 

Lewis’ victory at the 2013 HSBC Women’s Champions in Singapore kick-started a stunning season for the American. Photo: HSBC / Getty Images.

Lewis’ HSBC Women’s Champions victory kick-started a stunning 2013 for the American. Photo: HSBC / Getty Images.

At the end of 2012, Lewis was named Rolex Player of the Year after a stunning season featuring four LPGA titles.

 

Lewis continued that form early this year, winning the HSBC tournament at its new home at Sentosa Golf Club before capturing the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup back in the USA.

 

Following the back-to-back wins, Lewis leapt to the top of the Rolex Rankings, displacing the fast-fading Tseng Ya-ni.

 

Lewis, who turned 28 in February, only lasted four weeks as World No. 1 before Park In-bee took over, with the Korean embarking on a staggering run of form that featured six titles – including the first three majors – in the first six months of the year.

 

However, Lewis – who turned pro after the 2008 Curtis Cup – has arguably been the dominant force in women’s golf in the second half of 2013, only rivalled by World No. 2 Suzann Pettersen.

 

Lewis won the Women’s British Open in August for her second major title. Photo: Ladies European Tour.

Lewis won the Women’s British Open in August for her second career major title. Photo: Ladies European Tour.

Since July, Lewis has won her second career major at the Women’s British Open in August, recorded three runner-up finishes and finished no lower than eighth in 10 straight LPGA events, including in China, Malaysia and Japan.

 

In early December, she also led the Ladies European Tour’s season-ending Omega Dubai Ladies Masters after the second and third rounds before being edged into second place by Thailand’s Pornanong Phatlum.

 

Although the American just wants to “keep going”, she’s currently enjoying some much-needed rest before the LPGA resumes in the Bahamas in January then winds its way through Asia-Pacific the following month.

 

Interview with STACY LEWIS

 

You’ve had a stunning second half to your 2013 season, ultimately finishing the year with 19 top-10s in 25 LPGA events. What’s the plan from now until you start your 2014 season?

Really, with the way I’m playing, I want to just keep going, but I know that to play well next year and have my energy level up, I need to take a few weeks off. I just need to force myself to take some time off, let my body relax and let my head relax.

 

Your victory in the HSBC Women’s Champions in Singapore sparked a great season for you. What makes the tournament stand out, in your mind?

It was so early in the year, so I didn’t expect to ‘come out the gates’ and play in the way I did. It was a little bit of a surprise win, but it definitely kick-started the year for me.

 

Lewis’ victory at the 2013 HSBC Women’s Champions in Singapore kick-started a stunning season for the American. Photo: HSBC / Getty Images.

Lewis is a big fan of the HSBC Women’s Champions’ new home at Sentosa Golf Club: “You really have to think your way around and that’s what I liked about it.” Photo: HSBC / Getty Images.

I think if you ask players what their favourite event in Asia is, everybody says Singapore. It’s the tournament that everybody wants to win. It’s one that you get the best field at.

 

What’s your usual schedule at the beginning of the year and will you be doing the same in 2014?

Last year I played in the Australian Open before I came to Singapore and I’ve done that the last couple of years. I like going down there and getting a head start in the year and this time I’m actually going to play a couple weeks earlier.

 

We have our first tournament in the Bahamas (January 23-26) and then go to Australia (February 13-16) and then come to Singapore (February 27-March 2). I’ll have a few tournaments under my belt by the time I get to Singapore, which I like because it’s my type of golf course and you have to have your game at that golf course, so I’ll be ready to go.

 

What do you think about Sentosa Golf Club and the Serapong Course, having won there as it hosted the HSBC Women’s Champions for the first time?

I was actually pretty excited when I heard that we were moving because for some reason I never seemed to play very good on the other golf course. I was glad they actually moved it.

 

Lewis is a big fan of the HSBC Women’s Champions’ new home at Sentosa Golf Club: “You really have to think your way around and that’s what I liked about it.” Photo: HSBC / Getty Images.

Lewis shot a 15-under total of 273 over the Serapong Course to beat Choi Na-yeon by one. Photo: AFP.

The course is really good and it’s one you really have to think your way around. Last time they moved the tees around on certain holes so you had to change your game plan depending on the tees. You really have to think your way around and that’s what I liked about it. I felt with my game plan that I could beat a lot of people that way and obviously it worked out.

 

What else are you looking forward to when you go to Singapore, other than the tournament?

I don’t know what it is we like so much about Singapore. I think it’s more that it feels like home to us. A lot of countries we go to are very different, and Singapore feels like home.

 

We always stay in a really nice hotel and there’s great shopping and a lot of things to do out on Sentosa Island. It’s one of those weeks where it’s just fun, there are a lot of fun things to do, and it’s early enough in the season where everybody is still pretty relaxed.

 

In 2013, Park In-bee, Suzann Pettersen and yourself emerged as the ‘Big Three’ in women’s golf. Can you talk about In-bee’s form, especially winning the first three majors?

I played with In-bee at the US Open (the year’s third major) and what was amazing to me about that run was how well she played once all the pressure was on. She won one major, you win two, you get asked all these questions, and she just went out there and won another one. I mean, she played better when the pressure was on. To me, that was the most impressive part about it.

 

I didn’t know it was possible to win three majors in a year with as many good players as we have, but it definitely opened my eyes to what was possible and showed me there are more things you can do. You know, with the ‘Big Three’ – Suzann, myself and In-bee – we’ve made each other work hard. We’ve each gone on little runs and taken our game to the next level this year.

 

The ‘Big Three’ of women’s golf: Lewis (right) with World No. 2 Suzann Pettersen (left) and World No. 1 Park In-bee (centre). Photo: AFP.

The ‘Big Three’ of women’s golf: Lewis (right) with Suzann Pettersen (left) and Park In-bee (centre). Photo: AFP.

But you have a new challenger now in Lydia Ko, whose recent victory in Taiwan was her fifth pro title in two years and her first since turning pro in October. Can you talk about her emergence and what you’re expecting from her in the next year?

I can’t say that I’m surprised. I’ve played quite a bit of golf with Lydia and she’s just very solid, just very consistent. She doesn’t really do anything flashy, but the ball just seems to go in the hole.

 

I think she’ll start off the year pretty good, but I think she might have a few growing pains in the middle of the year, just kind of adjusting to playing full-time and playing a full schedule, and travelling all over the place like we do. I think she’s going to experience a few growing pains. Everybody’s calling it the ‘Big Three’, but I think you can call it the ‘Big Four’, and you can go ahead and throw Lydia in there, too.

 

After finishing your season at December’s Omega Dubai Ladies Masters, where you had a final-day tussle with Pornanong, can you talk about the growing presence of Thai players on the LPGA?

Over the last year or so, Pornanong has just become very consistent and kind of ‘sneaky’. She’s very quiet and kind of unassuming and you wouldn’t really expect it out of her, but she’s become a really good player. And then you’ve got Ariya and Moriya [Jutanugarn]. Ariya is obviously still hurt so we don’t really know what to expect there.

 

Thailand is on the rise. They qualified for the International Crown [team competition] so they’re one of the top eight countries in the world and there’s a lot of really good golf coming from there right now.

 

With you at No. 3 and Lexi Thompson at No. 9 as the only Americans currently in the world’s top 10, do you feel extra pressure from home crowds when you play LPGA events in the USA?

There is pressure there, I think. Over the last year or couple of years, I’ve kind of been carrying the flag and trying to show people that American golf is okay. It’s hard. The tour is dominated by Asians and I don’t why that is.

 

I feel there’s some pressure there, almost that expectation from people that when I’m playing in the US, they expect me to be up there, they expect me to win every time I’m up in contention. It’s hard. You have to reel in the expectations a little bit, but at the same time, it’s the place that you want to be.

 

Having had four weeks as World No. 1 from mid-March, how much do you think about getting back to the top of the Rolex Rankings?

Lewis’ stunning second half of 2013 included a runner-up finish at the inaugural Reignwood LPGA Classic in Beijing, where China No. 1 Feng Shanshan (right) won with an eagle on the last hole. Photo: AFP.

Lewis’ stunning second half of 2013 included a runner-up finish at the inaugural Reignwood LPGA Classic in Beijing, where China No. 1 Feng Shanshan (right) won with an eagle on the last hole. Photo: AFP.

It’s there. It’s in the back of my mind. If you’re looking for any goal, that’s probably the next one is that I want to get back to No. 1 in the world.

 

I’ve always taken the approach of making mini goals to get to that big one, so you can’t be out trying to make a three-footer and thinking about getting to No. 1 in the world. I just like making mini goals and then the rest takes care of itself.

 

What are your other goals for 2014 and your career?

One thing I want to try to do better is just managing my schedule a little bit better. Besides that, it’s really just about winning tournaments.

 

I want to give myself a better chance to win the majors; that’s definitely a goal. From there, it’s just giving myself a chance to win every week. All the awards and all the things that happen at the end of the season, they’ll take care of themselves.

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