GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP, N.J. (AP) — Stacy Lewis will return to the LPGA ShopRite Classic later this month as more than the defending champion and No. 2 player in women's golf.
She'll also be coming back as somewhat of a hero for donating $20,000 in November to a local food bank after Superstorm Sandy.
Lewis was honored Monday with 'Stacy Lewis Day' by the Galloway Township Council. She also was given a community hero award by the Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce for her assistance after one of the biggest storms to strike the Northeast in a century.
Playing in Japan when the storm struck in late October, Lewis was moved after seeing the flooding and devastation near where she won last year's event. So she quietly opened her checkbook and sent money to people in need.
"I was just watching on TV and thinking, 'Gosh, I remember walking on the boardwalk.' Just seeing the pictures, I couldn't imagine being that that situation," said Lewis, who had to be persuaded to let people know about her donation. "The volunteer in me wanted to come and see what I could do, but obviously I couldn't do that being across the world."
The money allowed local officials to buy gas, rent trucks and move food and equipment to hard-hit areas.
Lewis said many people don't understand the relationships between the tournament communities and the players. The areas benefit and so do many of the not so well-known players, who get a bed to sleep in and somebody to make them feel at home.
"These communities are our home," said Lewis, who will begin defense of her title on May 31. "They may only be our home for a week, but they really are our home, and I just wanted to say 'thank you for supporting our tour.' I just wanted to help them get back on their feet."
Lewis' four-shot win at the Bay Course at the Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club catapulted her into the No. 3 ranking in the world, and she took over the No. 1 spot earlier this season after winning in Phoenix, her second win this season.
It thrust her into the spotlight, and she acknowledges that being in demand was a new experience, especially for someone who less than two years earlier was not comfortable with the media.
"It's hard," said Lewis, who has seven top-10 finishes in nine events. "I got to No. 1 for four weeks and never got to enjoy it because I was so busy running around everywhere. You have to take advantage of that opportunity when it comes. I hope I can get back to No. 1 so I can enjoy it a little bit more. It's been tough. We've had to say no to a lot of things."
Lewis hasn't said 'No' a lot, but she does when it interferes with her game.
However, there is no getting away from being recognized walking into a drug store or a restaurant or going to pick up your clothes at the cleaners.
"It's definitely strange," the tour's player of the year in 2012 said at a media day for the ShopRite Classic. "You kind of have to be on all the time. That's hard because you just can't be "Stacy Lewis the golfer" all the time. It's different, but I am slowly getting used to it."
Lewis didn't lose the No. 1 ranking because she played poorly. Inbee Park was phenomenal in taking it from her.
Park has won four times this year in eight events. The South Korean claimed the top spot a day after winning the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the first major of the year.
Lewis thinks she is a better golfer than a year ago.
"I am more comfortable being in the lead, and I think that is the difference more than anything in the stretch," she said. "You know what to expect. You know how your body is going to respond and you know how to manage, where to position yourself for Saturday and Sunday."
Battling Park for the top spot has added to the enjoyment Lewis said.
"It's fun to have a back and back for No. 1, where there are scenarios for passing each other, if one person wins or one person finishes third," Lewis said. "It's fun for the tour, (not) having a person who is No. 1 running away with it."
ShopRite officials announced Monday that 97 of the top 100 players on this year's earnings list have said they plan to play in their tournament, including the top 10.