Leave it to the wily old veteran Angela Stanford to keep alive the streak of an American winning at least one major every year since the Evian Championship became the LPGA’s fifth major in 2013. Stanford, who turns 41 in November, made her sixth career victory her first major championship as she closed with a 68 on Sunday to overtake fellow Yanks Amy Olson, Mo Martin and Austin Ernst as well as Korea’s Sei Young Kim by one stroke.
Starting the day five strokes behind Olson, Stanford rode a rollercoaster to the finish line as she made eagle on No. 15, double bogey on No. 16 and birdie on No. 17. Olsen, a 26-year-old who won an NCAA record 20 tournaments at North Dakota State University, came to the final hole of the scenic Evian course needing a par for the win but a hooked tee shot in the rough and then a three-putt relegated her to the second place tie.
Stanford ended the 72 holes at 12-under-par 272, with Olson, Ernst, Martin and Kim at 273; Ryann O’Toole and Jeongeun Lee6 were at 274 with Jessica Korda and Inbee Park at 275.
“You know, I remember my first time being in contention [in a major] was in 2003 at the [U.S. Women’s] Open,” Stanford said. “I was in a playoff [with Kelly Robbins and Hilary Lunke, won by Lunke.] I didn't know at the time how close I was because it was only my third year and I had know idea what I was doing, to be perfectly honest.”
Slowly, the years slipped away and the dream of winning a major championship started to fade. But it was finally realized at Evian, the 73rd consecutive major in which Stanford has played.
“As the years go on and you have all the near misses you think, ‘Wow, am I ever going to get that close again?’’ she said. “I had that moment on 16 tee today. Okay, you know, here you are again. This is as close as you've been in I don't know how long. So now what? We saw what happened.”
She made a double bogey on No. 16 – erasing the eagle she had made on the previous hole – but she rebounded brilliantly with a birdie on No. 17 and then got the help she needed from Olson to get the win.
“I'm grateful, and so happy for everybody at home, everybody that's all cheered for me and never gave up on me,” she said, in a reference to her mother’s battle with cancer. “I mean, God is funny. He catches you off guard just when you think that maybe you're done. It's amazing. I mean, I don't think -- I couldn't have asked for it any other way. It's not my plan, so it's pretty cool.”
The 2018 major championship season shouted out the depth and breadth of talent on the LPGA. The five majors were won by players from five different countries:
- The ANA Inspiration by Sweden’s Pernilla Lindberg in a thrilling eight-hole playoff over seven-time major winner Inbee Park.
- The U.S. Women’s Open by Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand after four extra holes with Hyo-Joo Kim.
- The KPMG Women’s PGA Championship went two playoff holes before Sung Hyun Park of Korea defeated So Yeon Ryu.
- Georgia Hall thrilled her home-country fans when she won the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in England.
And then Stanford put America on the board with her win at Evian as six of the top-nine on the final leaderboard had the red, white and blue flag next to their name.
The Rolex ANNIKA Major Award was decided at the Evian Championship when Jutanugarn won the season-long points race over the other major winners based on her consistent play. In addition to winning the U.S. Women’s Open, she was T-4 in both the ANA Inspiration and the Ricoh Women’s British Open.
The real prize, however, is the trophy Stanford is taking home to her mother. Nan Stanford had seemingly beaten breast cancer, but earlier this year the bad news came that it has metastasized to her bones. That’s a battle bigger than double bogeys. But on Sunday, in the foothills of the French Alps, overlooking Lake Geneva, Angela proved that if you never give up, dreams can sometimes come true.