SOUTHPORT, England - Is this the new Tiger vs. Phil? Or Annika vs Karrie? Palmer vs Nicklaus? Kathy Whitworth vs Mickey Wright?
That’s the level the Michelle Wie – Stacy Lewis rivalry is starting look like it could emerge into during the coming years after the way the two have started the 2014 season.
Wie has her U.S. Women’s Open title, which she topped Lewis by two shots for, and her lead atop the Rolex ANNIKA Major Award standings after finishing second and first in the season’s first two majors. Lewis has three victories this season and followed up Wie’s U.S. Women’s Open win by overtaking Wie’s Sunday lead at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship Presented by P&G for a come-from-behind win the following weeks.
Lewis sits at No. 1 and Wie at No. 2 in all the categories that measure a player – Rolex Player of the Year standings, Race to the CME Globe points, official money list, top-10 finishes and scoring average. One could also more simply just categorize it as the best 1-2 punch in golf these days.
“I feel very honored that people are putting me up against Stacy – No. 1 in the world. Obviously, she’s a really good player,” Wie said. “I feel honored that people are comparing me to her or putting me against her.”
The drive to beat each other is there but the hatred isn’t. When Lewis finished runner-up at the U.S. Women’s Open, she waited for Wie just off the green with a hug, a fist pound and a congratulations for her good friend.
“I think rivals are great for any sport, and I don’t think you have to hate each other, because we are never going to hate each other,” Lewis said. “But I can tell you we both want to beat each other once we get on the golf course, and that’s all you need for a rivalry to work.”
The two had played in the same events for years and admired each other but never really gotten to know each other on a personal level. That changed at the 2013 Solheim Cup. With both living in Jupiter, Fla., these days, a friendship has evolved in the same timeframe as a rivalry.
“I don’t really know what it is but I enjoy hanging around her,” Lewis said. “It’s cool how I’ve learned a lot from her, and how she handles the media and how she’s handled the pressures and the expectations. She doesn’t read anything that anybody writes and she’s doesn’t really care what anybody thinks about her and it’s kind of like, oh, that kind of makes sense.”
It goes both ways. Playing together and working out together often on their weeks at home, Wie’s noticed that Lewis’ drive is influencing her own. They both know for the rivalry to continue they both have to keep up the level of play and even push it higher.
Says Wie: “When I see Stacy, even if she finished fourth or third, she’s still really motivated. She’s pissed off that she was fourth, and I really admire that.”
Wie admires how “deadly consistent, annoyingly consistent” her friend’s game, she said with a laugh. Lewis loves her “3-wood stinger” that no one else in the women’s game can replicate. But away from the course, the two couldn’t be any more different.
“That’s true. That’s very true. Obviously we have golf as the common bond, but yeah, Michelle is the artsy kind of goofy person and I’m definitely not that,” Lewis said.
What the opposite of artsy and goofy is Lewis doesn’t know, she said, but Wie says that it’s hard to see the quirky, funny and sarcastic personality that she’s seen from Lewis because she’s so competitive and focused on the golf course. When they’re paddleboarding a waterway or hanging out at Wie’s house for a 4th of July pool party, which had “no twerking involved” Wie deadpanned, the real Lewis comes out – the kindhearted, fun side of her.
“That’s one part I think a lot of people don’t see is how kind she is. She took Jaye Marie Green and gave her a three-hour chipping lesson,” Wie said. “We got her on to the course and she was teaching her everything. She’s definitely very kind and motivated.”
At the Bear’s Club and Medalist, where the game’s greatest rivalry is being born and enhanced during off weeks away from the Tour, Lewis has figured out quickly when she has to get Wie out to play or practice.
“Michelle is usually very focused on the next meal. We usually play in the morning and then go have fun lunch because she usually gets very focused on the lunch and kind of doesn’t pay attention to the whole golf side of it,” Lewis said with a chuckle. “She’ll tell you the same thing.”
Wie, for her part, laughed a kind of guilty as charged giggle when told of Lewis’ comment, concluding her press conference as she exited the stage left.
Whether this season is merely the opening act of a career-long rivalry or simply a fleeting period of dominance by two friends is yet to be written, but one thing everyone will tell you: This rivalry, friendship or whatever one calls two friends’ season-long domination, it’s great for the game.