Editor’s note: This column ran in the July 15, 2011 issue of Golfweek.
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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Angela Stanford felt the tears well in her eyes on the first hole of Sunday’s final round. She turned to her caddie and said, “I feel this is it.” Ten holes later, that gut feeling turned from nervous excitement to a harsh angst. Stanford dropped four shots in four holes and dug herself a hole so deep even her GMC pickup couldn’t pull her out.
Still, she didn’t lose faith. Stanford returned to The Broadmoor on Monday morning needing to play the last four holes 3 under to get into a playoff. After birdieing the 16th, Stanford had a flashback walking up to the 17th green to face her 8-foot birdie putt. She’d felt this rush before.
In 2003, Stanford drained two lengthy birdie putts on the 18th at Pumpkin Ridge – one to get into a playoff against Hilary Lunke and one to force Lunke to birdie for the win, which she did.
Lunke’s success essentially ended as soon as it began. She never again sniffed a victory and retired to raise a family.
Stanford, 33, missed that 8-footer for birdie at The Broadmoor and her visions of holing out on the 72nd evaporated when her tee ball rolled into the left rough. In 10 1/2 years on tour, she has won four tournaments, played on three Solheim Cup teams and enjoyed a lengthy stint ranked inside the top 10. Still, no major.
“After (this year’s) Kraft, I was having a hard time with these majors,” Stanford said. “ ‘When’s it going to happen? Why do certain people win?’ ”
Shortly after posing the questions, Stanford, who finished fourth, hopped into her truck with her 69-year-old grandmother, Joyce, and began the long drive from Colorado Springs back home to Texas. She had plenty of time to replay the events of a bewildering weather-plagued week that left everyone involved exhausted.
Hall of Famer Karrie Webb owns seven major-championship trophies. She also knows the feeling of coming painfully close.
“If you’re giving it your all and you got outplayed by somebody,” Webb said, “you just have to look at it like you’ve given it 100 percent.”
Of course, that’s coming from a player who won her first major at age 24. Stanford identifies more with Dirk Nowitzki, the Dallas Mavericks star who waited 13 years to taste victory.
“He’s my inspiration,” Stanford said. “He stuck with one team and finally got it, and it was that much sweeter.”
A strong Christian, Stanford believes events in her life happen on a timeline that’s not her own. For her, it’s not just about self-belief. It’s about surrender.
“In my heart, (God’s) just telling me to keep playing,” said Stanford, who often thinks back to 2008 in Mobile, Ala. It was a Friday, and she’d put herself in good position for the weekend. Stanford hadn’t won a tournament since 2003 and was mentally battling against the one-hit-wonder moniker. Finally, while sweating off calories on a treadmill, Stanford let go. She sent a message to God: “I’m done (fighting it). If I never win again, I know you’ll take care of me.”
She won that Sunday, and then twice more in the next five months.
Now, Stanford feels she needs to do the same regarding majors. There’s only so much she can control.
The 2016 Olympics have given Stanford a new directive. Playing in Brazil is her “ultimate goal,” and the chase to establish herself as one of the game’s top two Americans is helping take the pressure off her major vacuum.
However, she firmly believes the drought could end in two weeks’ time at Carnoustie. She has to think that way.
“I believe the British is going to be it, with all the Hogan history,” said Stanford, who practices out of Shady Oaks in Fort Worth, Texas, where Ben Hogan was a charter member. “I just keep thinking it’s about to happen.”
The women will play Carnoustie for the first time at the Ricoh Women’s British Open on July 28-31. Hogan won the British Open there in 1953. Stanford holds a great deal of respect for “Mr. Hogan” and overhauled her swing on a mat that her instructor, Mike Wright, put down for her on the “little nine course” just below Hogan’s tree.
Wright has been the head pro at Shady Oaks, with Hogan’s blessing, since he was 23 years old. Stanford bought Wright a plane ticket to Scotland for Christmas so the two could experience Carnoustie together.
Stanford’s gut tells her winning at Carnoustie could be the storybook ending she has longed for. She loves the rush of emotions that accompany a clutch Sunday putt. But she’d be perfectly fine with something a little less dramatic.
“How much of a lead did (Jean) Van de Velde have?” asked Stanford, noting the Frenchman’s epic collapse from a three-shot lead in 1999 at Carnoustie. “I’ll take five.”