Stacy Lewis Working Hard To Better Her Game -- And The LPGA's

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Stacy Lewis is in pursuit of her third major title and is just three strokes back heading into the final round.

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. -- No one ever told Stacy Lewis she was going to need a message to deliver and a product to sell on top of a golf game to play.

"When you turn pro, you're like, 'I just want to hit the ball around the course,'" said the best American player in the game and the biggest reason the LPGA is in good shape with the recently turned 30-year-old as one of its ambassadors.

Lewis shot a 4-under 68 in Saturday's third round of the ANA Inspiration, one of two majors she has won in her career (in 2011). She's 3 shots behind rookie leader Sei Young Kim going into the final round.

"Three shots on this golf course is not a lot," Lewis said. "I've trailed by more and I've won. I think it's hard on a hard golf course when you have a big lead. It's hard because you start protecting a little bit, then you start making bad swings. Maybe if I'm not in that final group I can get out there, post a number and kind of see what happens."

She's no dummy, Lewis, whose comments are sure to seep into the consciousness of the 22-year-old leader. Lewis is, in fact, one of the biggest grinders in the game, the leader in top-10 finishes the past two years and someone you do not necessarily want to be paired with if she's having a bad afternoon, though she's working on that.

She is also working -- and has been since earning the No. 1 ranking for the first time in March 2013 -- on what her message is and how she can best sell the product.

Not her product, mind you. The product.

"I'm still trying to figure that out," she said Saturday of the ongoing effort to build the LPGA Tour while also promoting herself. "When you're the top American on this tour, there's a little more responsibility. You're going to be asked more questions. I don't mind it. It's a good position to be in. But I used to dread it."

The key, however, according to LPGA chief communications officer Kraig Kann and his staff, is that she recognized that, wanted to solve it and literally came to them saying, "I need help."

It was actually the year before she first claimed the No. 1 ranking, in 2012, when she first approached Kann.

"She came to me on the range at a tournament in New Jersey and asked if I had a few minutes," Kann recalled. "I said, 'What's the topic?' And she said, 'Getting better.'

"She said, 'I'm starting to play some good golf, I've won a major, I know I'm going to have a lot of media opportunities and I want to figure out how to be good at it.'"

This was not about being a more colorful quote, though that was part of it. But when Kann put together a presentation for her on his computer, it was more about the big picture than a glossy of herself.

"Stacy doesn't like just sitting up there and saying things are going well," Kann said. "She wants specifics. She wants numbers. She wants to know that our social media is up 139 percent across all platforms and that we're on TV in 170 countries."

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Stacy Lewis held the No. 1 ranking for a month in 2013 and 21 weeks last year.

Lewis was not on the much-discussed cover of Golf Digest this past week. Lexi Thompson was, with a jacket draped over her bare shoulders that left less to the imagination than many women would have liked.

The idea of Lewis was discussed for the cover, but she was not comfortable with the clothes suggested for her. Instead, she is seen inside the issue wearing her standard workout gear of yoga pants and top.

"I think it's great that they put an LPGA player on the cover," Lewis said diplomatically when asked. "Past that, I don't want it to be the focus this week."

"She cares more," Kann said, "about the content of the article written and what it would do for the women's game, than she would about the cover shot. She's not in this to be a cover girl; she's in this to be part of the growth of the game."

Since the world rankings began for women in 2006, only two American women have held the No. 1 ranking. Cristie Kerr enjoyed the position for all of five weeks in 2010. Lewis had it for a month in 2013 and for 21 weeks in 2014.

But unlike the first time Lewis was No. 1, when she was the only American in the top 10, there are now four -- Lewis, Michelle Wie, Thompson and Kerr. There are six in the top 20 and seven in the top 25.

As gloriously gifted as New Zealand native Lydia Ko is at 17, it is important for the tour's marketing potential to have a strong American presence. It is just as important that the tour has women as unselfish as Lewis if it wants to make a bigger dent in the American sports consciousness, much less draw closer in earning potential with the PGA.

Can Lewis be golf's version of Venus Williams, who fought for equal prize money in Grand Slam tournaments? That's a tough proposition, but she has the right mindset.

Last year, when Wie won the U.S. Women's Open, edging out Lewis by 2 strokes, Lewis called it the best thing to happen to women's golf.

Lewis is a member of the LPGA board and one of five international ambassadors to LPGA-USGA Girls Golf. She also just announced plans to launch a junior all-star invitational in her name in Johnson, Arkansas, this summer and is as aware of the LPGA's traditions and past champions as anyone on tour.

At the International Crown tournament last year, Kann's cell phone buzzed with a text message from Lewis less than an hour before she was to tee off saying she had a great idea for how to improve the tour's first tee experience.

Kann laughed. "I couldn't do this with Tiger and Phil [Mickelson]," he said. "They're not going to pull me aside and say, 'What can I do to help us get to the next level?'

"Stacy just gets it."

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