PHOENIX – Angela Stanford has seen her share of players leave the game bitter. It’s tough to watch. Truth be told, the proud Texan was headed in that direction herself. Winless since 2012, she missed out on her first Solheim Cup since 2005 last summer. For years she threatened to play a lighter schedule, cutting down on the tiresome globetrotting.
Stanford’s career-defining litmus test centered around one thing: winning a major. That’s how everyone measures greatness, she reasoned, and without one, this all would have been for nothing. Never mind that she has won five times and played on six Solheim Cup teams.
“I think I had fallen out of love with playing the game,” she said over tacos at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.
Missing out on a Solheim Cup cut deep. After a missed cut at the CN Canadian Women’s Open soon after, Stanford had a gut check.
“I told myself I’m not going to do this again,” she said. “If I only have a few years left to play, I’m not going to leave with a bad taste in my mouth. I’m going to go down playing decent, if not good.”
And so she hired a new coach in Todd Kolb, a South Dakota-based instructor who works with friend Kim Kaufman. Stanford reflected on why she fell in love with this game in the first place, noting that all she ever wanted to do was play, whether it was basketball, volleyball, softball or tennis.
“I even tried to run track,” she said with a laugh.
Last November, Stanford turned 40 and celebrated with friends in Las Vegas. While 40 is the new 30 in regular life, it doesn’t work the same on the LPGA. Only six players 40 and over have teed it up on tour this year.
And while most young players would recoil at the idea of grinding on tour that long, Stanford finds herself racking up firsts.
In Thailand, she hit 14 fairways and 18 greens in one round for the first time. In Singapore she posted her first 29. When a round starts to go south, she can better self-correct. Stanford not only believes that winning a major is still possible, but the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, too.
“Your mind gets clouded with life,” she said. “I think I’m in a period in my life right now where it’s clear.”
Cristie Kerr also turned 40 last year and won three times worldwide. She plans to play until she’s at least 50.
“I was put on this planet to do this,” Kerr said. “My parents gave me a tremendous gift, and I’d hate to squander it.”
Stanford feels the same.
If looks could get the ball in the hole, said 36-year-old Katherine Kirk, Stanford would make everything.
“They’ve got to have some fire to still be out here,” Kirk said of the over-40 set.
It’s actually average putting, Stanford said, that has held her back. Deep down she knows that should’ve been addressed years ago. With Kolb, she’s learning how to fix an old problem –moving her weight laterally on the downswing – in a new way.
Stanford looks at instructors like building blocks. Take away someone from her past, and she’s not the same player. With Kolb, she’s longer throughout her bag and more self-assured, his message coming at just the right time.
Stanford talks about the end of her career the same way people talk about life – “I don’t know how much time is left.”
Walking away from professional golf is serious business, and Stanford believes there are people who wonder why she keeps beating her head against the wall.
“To me, I take it as lucky,” she said. “I’m lucky I haven’t burned out. I’m lucky I don’t have an injury on every part of my body. I’m lucky that I still have the energy. I’m lucky that I still care to do it. I consider it a blessing that I’m still learning.”
And if that major never comes, well, that’s OK too. She regrets nothing. Gwk