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At Long Last an American Earns POY Honors on LPGA Tour
Stacy Lewis has broken an 18-year drought for a player from the U.S. to earn the LPGA Tour's highest honor. That stretch - which began when Beth Daniel received the Player of the Year award in 1994 - was finally broken by Lewis, who finished tied for fourth in last week's Lorena Ochoa Invitational and ended up atop the season-long points' race.
Lewis, a former All-American at Arkansas, notched four victories in 25 starts this year en route to earning $1,863,956, second to Inbee Park's $2,266,638. With a victory in this week's Titleholders - worth $500,000 - and a poor finish by Park, Lewis could overtake the South Korean on the money list.
Lewis's points' total in the Player of the Year race was 221, with Park at 168. Taiwan's Yani Tseng, still ranked No. 1 in the world despite an off-season for her, has 145 points; Tseng was the tour's POY in 2010 and '11.
Lewis doesn't think this year is an anomaly and expects more future accomplishments. "People play their best golf at different ages," the 27-year-old Lewis told ESPNW.com's Mechelle Voepel. "For me, I know I haven't played my best golf yet. That's what excites me about the next few years and makes me want to work even harder.
"Our tour in general has needed American players to step up. The only thing I could do was just play better golf and move up the rankings and get that exposure."
Lewis related to the Associated Press that she was getting frustrated at having to explain why Americans have experienced difficulties emerging from the pack. Before Tseng and after Daniel, the LPGA's POY winners were Mexico's Lorena Ochoa (2006-09), Sweden's Annika Sorenstam (1995, '97, '98, 2001-05), Australia's Karrie Webb (1999-2000), and England's Laura Davies (1995).
"All last year, there were all these questions of where the Americans were and why weren't they playing well," Lewis said. "I got tired of answering the questions. The only thing I could do is play better and put a face to American golf."
Daniel also told the AP she was "sick" of hearing about the non-American streak. "Here's my take," said Daniel, who retired from competition in 2007 and served as the captain of the victorious American squad in the 2009 Solheim Cup. "So many American fans are looking for an American superstar so bad that when someone starts playing well, they get grabbed and offered to do outside things.
"To win player of the year, you have to focus on playing all year long," added Daniel, who was enshrined in the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2000. "And there's not a lot of American golfers that focus entirely on the golf course. They're making money off the golf course. Stacy is one of those people who can hold her focus."
Lewis agreed. "(The Player of the Year award) was not even on my mind," she told the AP. "I was trying to win a couple of tournaments and be the top American. Everything else has been a bonus."
Lewis also related to Voepel that she's leaned on other Americans - including Daniel - for advice and guidance this year. "Beth has been great about telling me about handling the player of the year, and the pressure that goes with that. It's just been really nice to have them to fall back on and talk to somebody who's been through what I'm doing."
For all the LPGA Tour's statistics, visit http://www.lpga.com/stats/golf-stats.aspx.