Stanford revels in 'away game' success
An odd thing happened when Angela Stanford missed a 6-foot par putt to win in Singapore: People cheered. The noise grew louder when she tapped in for bogey, assuring a playoff at the HSBC Women’s Champions.
Good thing Stanford loves to quiet a crowd. Since she was a kid, the ultra-competitive Texan has gotten a thrill out of road games. As a feisty point guard at Fort Worth’s Boswell High, she lived for silencing the gym at rival Azle High.
Stanford’s caddie, Brain Dilley, compared the drive back to the 18th tee to a stadium tunnel.
“This is an away game,” Dilley told her. “We’re playing in an away gym.”
Stanford thought back to her college days when the TCU team traveled to Austin. She remembered team discussions about making it quiet on Longhorn turf. She recalled beating UT.
There’s an entire ocean between Fort Worth and Tanah Merah Country Club. It’s 24-plus hours to get there. For American players, Asia is the ultimate away game. It seems like only the moon is farther.
Stanford, 34, outlasted Jenny Shin, Na Yeon Choi and Shanshan Feng in a three-hole playoff to become the first American to win in Singapore.
“It’s nice to have Americans winning on the other side of the globe,” said Stanford, who joins American Jessica Korda, a winner in Australia to start the 2012 season.
It’s the first time Americans have won two of the first three events since 2007. Stanford is the first American women’s player to win in Asia this century. That’s difficult to believe.
Stanford curled in a 4-foot par putt on the third playoff hole to clinch her fifth career title, her first since February 2009.
The tears flowed because droughts are tough. The inevitable questions arise each year: Will I ever win again? How long do I want to keep doing this?
Katie Futcher described her fellow Texan as the “toughest competitor” on tour. Stanford isn’t going to hang around if she can’t compete to win.
Singapore marked Stanford’s 265th LPGA tournament. Shin, 19, was playing in her 18th event.
“I’ve never envied anyone out there,” Stanford told a friend in Thailand. “But this is the first time in my life I wish I was in my early 20s. Everybody is getting younger, and I’m not.”
Looking back at the past few seasons, Stanford can see the mental drain. The health of her mother – who fought breast cancer – weighed heavily on Stanford’s mind. She prides herself on being able to compartmentalize. To be strong enough mentally to put things into a box and keep them there.
But not her mom. Nan Stanford is Angela’s best friend. And though she doesn’t want her mother to read this and think she kept her daughter from winning tournaments, she has to concede that subconsciously, mom’s illness effected her. And rightly so.
At the end of the 2011 season, winless on the LPGA and pointless at the Solheim Cup, Stanford needed a break. She thought: “If don’t put these clubs away for a while, it could get ugly.”
From Sunday at the CME Group Titleholders in mid-November to Jan. 10, Stanford hit balls one day, and that lasted only a couple of hours. She retreated to her second home in Colorado – alone. She worked out in the morning and skied in the afternoon. Her family came up for Christmas and she went back to Texas for New Year’s, but mostly it was just Stanford and the slopes.
“I think you get to a point where you do something so much that you get lost in the day-to-day,” she said. “I just needed a little shock to the system.”
The refreshed attitude paid off at Royal Melbourne, which Stanford said was like starting the season at the British Open. The skiing strengthened her lower body. She was impressed with how well her game withstood the oppressive heat of Thailand and Singapore. The victory came unexpectedly.
Stanford has a goal of competing in the 2016 Olympics when golf returns to the games in Rio de Janeiro after a century absence. That’s her finish line. She looks at Juli Inkster, still getting it done at 51, and finds fewer excuses.
“Every year you just have to recommit to it,” Stanford said. “It gets harder and harder the older you get.”
But a little bit sweeter.