A week after Angela Stanford picked up her first LPGA Tour win at the ShopRite Classic in 2003, she found herself in an 18-hole playoff with Hilary Lunke and Kelly Robbins at the U.S. Women’s Open. She finished one stroke behind Lunke and it was not until the 2018 Evian Championship that Angela picked up her first major title.
Now the 43-year-old Lone Star State native from Fort Worth by way of Texas Christian University heads south to Houston hugging the Volunteers of America Classic trophy, hoping history repeats itself, this time with a slightly different outcome, at this week’s U.S. Women’s Open.
Stanford, who has spent the entire 21st century on the LPGA Tour and now has seven wins, closed with a sizzling 67 in a chill wind that sent shivers through The Colony, north of Dallas. That left Stanford at seven-under-par 277, two strokes better than former U.S. Women’s Open champions Inbee Park and So Yeon Ryu as well as 19-year-old Yealimi Noh.
Throughout her professional career, which began at LPGA Q school in 2000, Stanford has known ups and downs, both personally and professionally. After winning in 2003, she went five years until her next win. Then it was three years between win No. 4 and No. 5 and then another six years until win No. 6.
Plopped in the middle of all that, her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009. That Nan and Steve Stanford were at the VOA Classic to see their daughter win less than an hour from their home was especially meaningful.
“It’s pretty cool,” Stanford said, fighting back tears. “My parents have never seen me win in person. That’s a pretty big deal.”
Also pretty big is the resolve that got Stanford back into the winner’s circle. After winning at Evian, Stanford let her mind wander, thinking about what was next for her. There was the Angela Stanford Foundation and the scholarships it provided.
There was her faith, her family and her friends. And when she accepted a position as an assistant to Captain Pat Hurst on the U.S. team for the 2021 Solheim Cup, Stanford seemed to be putting competitive golf on a back burner.
But there is also a spark inside Stanford – the love of golf and the thrill of competing – that will always kindle. Simply put, she was not ready to lower the bar of expectation just yet.
“After winning the major, it would have been easy to be satisfied,” Stanford says. “And in some way, I did. But I got real tired of bad golf.”
Instead of sliding comfortably into retirement, she recommitted herself to being a great golfer. She knew the skill was there. Now the desire was returning.
“So I went to work with my instructor Todd [Colvin], especially on the short game,” she said. “That shot I hit on 18 (a tasty one-hop, bump-and-run up a treacherous hill}, I’d never have been able to do that before.”
In fact, Stanford hit a wide variety of short-game shots at The Colony that were as impressive as her always steady swing and native Texas ability to handle the wind.
It was a chip-in for eagle on No. 17 in Saturday’s third round that set the table for her sensational Sunday closing round. After making bogeys on Nos. 11 and 13 then a double bogey on No. 14, she played the last 20 holes six under par.
Now Stanford has some thinking to do. With the Volunteers of America win, a T-6 at the Pelican Women's Championship presented by DEX Imaging and Konica Minolta last month and a T-3 at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship presented by P&G in August, she looks very much like someone who could play her way onto the U.S. Solheim Cup team for a seventh time.
“That’s a long way away,” Stanford said about the Solheim Cup, not wanting to admit a thought she surely harbors. “I’ve enjoyed being assistant captain. We will see what happens.”
As much as Stanford has enjoyed being an assistant captain, she also enjoys competing. She enjoys competing a lot. She proved that once again at the Volunteers of America Classic.
The 2021 season will be Stanford’s third decade on the LPGA Tour. She seems ready – and willing – for the challenge. For now, it’s onto Houston and the U.S. Women’s Open.
Perhaps history will repeat itself, this time with Stanford packing the championship trophy into the back of her car and making the four-hour drive back to Fort Worth.
That’s where it all started – and it doesn’t look like it’s ready to end quite yet.