Angela Stanford Wins the Evian, First Major of Career
The LPGA took an emotional turn this week at the Evian, first categorized as one of the tour’s majors in 2013. The United States preserved a streak of having one of its golfers win at least one major of the season when Angela Stanford came from behind to take the trophy. That, however, is not the real story. The forty-year old six-time winner finished at minus 12, over a group at minus 11, through a treacherous string of holes in the final nine. Any shot off the mark landed in horrific grass. I’m not sure that I could have gotten myself out of that stuff, much less a golf ball. That grass changed the fortunes of several players, most notably Amy Olson, the North Dakota State grad who led by three in pursuit of a first victory. Suspenseful and poignant as that might have been, that was only part of the real story, the part that mattered to the gut of the spectator.
As a backdrop, one could scarcely hope for a more picturesque setting with the Alps in the background, and the broad waterscape sweeping through every shot of the course. For me, rooting for a favorite player was a problem. There was Olson, playing brilliantly and poised on the edge of breaking through early in her career. I love that sort of thing – and then, there was Angela Stanford, who has played in nearly eighty majors. The Forth Worth veteran turned pro in 2000 after that year’s U.S. Women’s Amateur. She won several times on various tours, threatened to win other times but not pulling it off, and was never able to manage a major. In fact, she was known on tour as “the greatest player without a major championship.” Stanford is a big TCU fan, and is an alum. I suspect after her younger years didn’t come up with the goods, she probably believed that the dream was over – and that is the story. Commentators referred to Stanford as the classic example of an “underachiever,” not a failure, but someone who might have done better with a personality profile tweak of some sort or other. If that didn’t set me on fire for the underdog, nothing could. The tide changed at the 15th hole in the final four from hell. Putting a long fairway shot only a few feet from the pin before sinking the eagle putt didn’t look very ‘underachieverish’ to me. That gave Stanford a share of the lead. She gave it right back with a double bogey on 16, an occurrence that will tear the heart out of even the most thick-skinned muni golfer. Rebounding on 17 brought her another birdie, but Olson got to 18 needing only a par to win…enter the infamous grass. Olson couldn’t get close, and three-putted for a bogey. Stanford managed a par. When the reality of her victory had fully sunk in, the hand covered her mouth, and the tears flowed, Her major was in the bag. I love that sort of thing, too.
There’s nothing about the age of forty that suggests one can’t play brilliantly and win, but in recent years, beating the twenty-somethings and even the teens is a tall order. That thing about paying one’s dues seems to be a thing of the past, and the young players are not afraid to get in and win right now. As much joy is provided by youth experiencing its emergence, there is a beauty in watching a seasoned competitor reach back and check an item off the bucket list. Stanford was called “the wily old veteran” by the TV crew, but to me, that suggested something decrepit, which simply isn’t the case. It was mature golf played with aggressive but steady nerves. The young hotshots can start winning again next week, unless Stanford intends to continue playing that way, and she very well might. Regaedless, for this week, hats off to Stanford’s long-pursued dream, and its happy ending.