“Texas is a state of mind. Texas is an obsession,” John Steinbeck once wrote, and the sentiment still rings true, especially for a trio of players at this week’s The Ascendant LPGA benefiting Volunteers of America. Fort Worth native Angela Stanford and McKinney resident Brittany Lang have played in the event since it began in 2013, while Gerina Mendoza, who lives in Carrollton, has teed it up eight times, only missing the 2018 edition due to maternity leave. But their pride in the Lone Star State isn’t just reserved for the tournament. It’s something they all constantly effuse about, whether they were born here or not.
“Texans are probably the most proud of their state, and we justify everything through you know, ‘They're fun, they're Texan’, or, it's like, ‘Oh, that's a good person because they're Texan’,” explains Mendoza. “We just love our state and we're just diehard Texans.”
Lang agrees. “Angela, Gerina and I, we’re very proud to be Texans and very proud of where we live and happy that the LPGA gets to take a glimpse of it, and see the hospitality, and just a beautiful place, and fans, and pretty courses, and all kinds of good stuff. We're very proud of it and we love coming here.”
Texas and women’s golf have always been connected. Babe Zaharias, born and raised in Beaumont, was one of the 13 founders of the LPGA Tour. Kathy Whitworth, the winningest golfer ever with 88 titles on her resume, is a Monahans native now living in Flower Mound. The Texas Women’s Open was a marquee event for elite amateur and professional players in the early-to-mid 1900s – it was even on the Tour calendar from 1950 to 1954 – and today, the tournament still attracts top players from across the country.
For Stanford, having a tournament this close to where she’s spent her entire life is incredibly special for all the obvious reasons. But it’s even more important considering how deeply golf’s roots run here.
“You have Kathy Whitworth and even some great amateur players that have been from Texas,” says Stanford. “Texas history and golf are tightly tied. So I love that we have an event here. And I hope there's one here forever because I think we should have one if you do look at all that history, it seems like the perfect fit.”
The Ascendant LPGA is celebrating its tenth anniversary and a new title sponsor in Ascendant National Title this year, an exciting development for the event formerly known as the Volunteers of America Classic. The change in name also came with a $200,000 bump in prize money, raising the total purse to $1.7 million with a winner’s share of $255,000. However, it’s the growth that Stanford’s seen and the continued commitment to the women’s game that means the most to the 22-year LPGA Tour veteran.
“I'm always one of those that I love the relationship. I love that they are committed to bumping the purse, and quite frankly, I'm okay if it's a slow growth because that means that they're committed to us,” says Stanford. “We've seen other tournaments on our schedule that have slowly increased their purse. They've stayed with us. Volunteers of America got it off the ground. And they stick by us and they're still with us. And to have a new sponsor like Ascendant come in and continue to elevate this event is a big deal.”
Mendoza is grateful, too, for the support that Texans everywhere have shown for the Tour and how those fans have helped make The Ascendant LPGA so successful throughout the years. “Texas in general is a big sports state. I think it's great that women's golf has come here and I think they've embraced it and supported it well. Year after year is gonna get bigger and bigger. As you say everything's bigger in Texas.”
For Lang, the proof is in the pudding. “I think from the start of this tournament, they have made massive strides. Las Colinas (Country Club) was a great venue. (Old American Golf Club) has been an amazing venue to pick us up. But you know, changing the practice facilities for the girls, getting a title sponsor – obviously Volunteers of America, they've been great, so supportive – the attendance, the help, everything I think it's great, and they're getting some better players in the field as well.”
But as these Tour veterans have progressed in their respective careers, the little things have become more important than the scores and checks and trophies. Being able to perform in front of friends and family and do what they love in their own backyards is what means the most.
“I love playing at home,” says Lang. “Sometimes it's harder, but it's nice to be in your own bed and nice to play in front of friends and family. I’ve played (Old American) a million times which is nice. Just feel comfortable. And then from there, try not to put too much pressure on yourself to play well.”
Stanford, who was announced as an assistant Solheim Cup captain earlier this week, also has a history at the venue. “I think playing junior golf and high school golf in college golf here, I love it. I love being close to home. I love being around family and friends and having them come out and watch and sleeping in your own bed. That's the best part.”
“I’m kind of a transplant Texan, but it's home,” says Mendoza. “When you go out of town, you're playing at a different course and you may be in the lead and you get people that cheer for you because you're doing well. And then right as you start to not do so well, they don't seem to cheer for you as much.
“But when you come home, you have family and friends, and people cheer for you just because you're from Texas and you live here. So it's definitely awesome to feel that support and just to play in front of my family and friends. We play all over the world and there are girls on Tour that will never get a chance to do that, so I’m very fortunate to have that.”