Nichols: USGA's Stacy Lewis exemption for U.S. Women's Open a win for moms

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Nichols: USGA's Stacy Lewis exemption for U.S. Women's Open a win for moms

Golf

Nichols: USGA's Stacy Lewis exemption for U.S. Women's Open a win for moms

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LOS ANGELES – Stacy Lewis had yet to hit a golf shot on Saturday morning at the HUGEL-AIR Premia LA Open but felt like she’d already won the day. Six-month-old Chesnee slept through the night, and the USGA called to say that she has a spot in this year’s U.S. Women’s Open.

Lewis, who sits three shots off the lead heading into the third round at Wilshire Country Club, was scheduled to participate in a 36-hole qualifier May 8 at The Clubs of Kingwood near her home in Texas.

No more.

The USGA got it right in giving Lewis a place in this year’s field. In fact, the organization said in a statement that it’s taking a fresh look at its policies, most notably the impact maternity leave has on its exemption categories.

In lieu of a modified policy for 2019, the USGA offered spots to both Lewis and Brittany Lincicome, who had originally planned to defer her exemption to 2020 and is now considering her options.

LEADERBOARD: HUGEL-AIR Premia LA Open

“I told them I’d love to help in the process of doing this,” Lewis told Golfweek. “It really sounds like they’ve realized it’s a much bigger fix than they can do in a week, but they seemed very committed to it.”

Lewis was No. 33 in the world when she went on maternity leave. The 34-year-old has played in the past 12 consecutive U.S. Women’s Opens, finishing in the top 3 on three different occasions. During that stretch she has won a dozen LPGA titles, including two majors, and spent 25 weeks at No. 1.

Lewis had finished no worse than 21st on the money list since 2010 before quitting mid-year in 2018 to give birth to Chesnee. She finished last season 99th.

The USGA announced earlier in the year that beginning in 2020, exemptions for the USWO would be given off of the Rolex Rankings rather than money lists from various tours.

Lewis, who’s currently 65th in the world, would like to see the USGA use a player’s ranking when she stopped competing to go on maternity leave as her qualifier for the next year. In Lewis’ case, her ranking of 33rd would’ve exempted her into 2019.

“I think that’s the only fair way to do it,” Lewis said.

The USGA’s current policy allows a pregnant player to defer her exemption into the next year. Lincicome, who is due Sept. 1, originally chose to defer her exemption to 2020. Now the USGA has given her a chance to play at Country Club of Charleston May 30-June 2 and, with a new policy in place for 2020, still have a spot open for next year.

Lewis deserves to be at this year’s Women’s Open. Top players shouldn’t be held back after having children. With so many adjustments and things to think about as a new mom, having a place in the biggest event of the year should be automatic for a player of Lewis’ standing.

Craig Annis, managing director of marketing and communications for the USGA, said a top-to-bottom review of the organization’s policies – including paternity leave, adoption and surrogacy – will take place after this year’s championship season.

It’s nice to see the USGA make such a timely and meaningful decision in short order.

Like any corporate setting, there’s a way to hold a player’s position at work while she takes off to welcome a baby into the world. It’s nice that Lewis can be a catalyst for change and still reap the benefits of it.

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