Angela Stanford plays tough at Women's PGA as mom's cancer returns

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Angela Stanford plays tough at Women's PGA as mom's cancer returns

LPGA Tour

Angela Stanford plays tough at Women's PGA as mom's cancer returns

KILDEER, Ill. – Angela Stanford got to the 16th hole of her rainy pro-am round in Arkansas last week and apologized to her playing partners. She had to make a phone call. Couldn’t possibly wait another second.

The news on the other end of the phone from her mother, Nan, shook Stanford to the core.

The cancer was back and had metastasized to her bones. Doctors told 62-year-old Nan that it’s treatable but not curable. Stanford is still rolling that phrase around: What does that mean exactly?

On Tuesday at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, Stanford asked her mom what she thought about sharing the news with her 20,000 Twitter followers. Nan said she could use the 20,000 prayers. The stories that have come back to Stanford in the past 48 hours provided immediate encouragement.

“You find out there are people out there fighting the same thing, beating the same thing,” said Stanford. It was a release for Stanford too, who found herself spontaneously bursting into tears last week in Arkansas. Now if a fellow tour pro sees her wiping an eye, they’ll know why. Bottling it up had proved more difficult.

Nan had her first breast cancer scare shortly after Stanford tied for fifth at the 2009 McDonald’s LPGA Championship (now the Women’s PGA). After her mom was officially diagnosed, Stanford no longer wanted to compete.

“Everyone who knows me knows she’s my best friend,” Stanford said back then. “She’s it for me.”

The five-time LPGA winner told Beth Daniel, the 2009 Solheim Cup captain, that she might withdraw from the U.S. Women’s Open. The player who wanted nothing more in life than to win a major championship didn’t care about golf anymore.

Daniel’s response, Stanford said, was some of the best advice she has ever received.

“You just have to get used to your new normal,” Daniel said.

After Stanford, 40, opened with a 2-under 70 at Kemper Lakes Golf Club, four back of leader Sung Hyun Park, she spent time outside the scoring area with Daniel and Meg Mallon. The pair Hall of Famers, who are in town for the event’s past champions’ dinner, wanted to make sure that Stanford kept her mother’s options open regarding treatment. Like any profession, Mallon said, there’s the best of the best.

Mallon went to chemo treatments in the early 90s with LPGA player Heather Farr, who was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 24.

“She lived more of a life than I could’ve ever lived by 28 years old,” said Mallon. When Mallon’s mom later suffered a massive brain hemorrhage and her sister fell ill with cancer, what kept Mallon competing was the knowledge that following her career brought her loved ones joy. She knows it’s the same for Stanford’s mom.

“That made me be able to walk one foot in front of the other,” said Mallon, “rather than wanting to be home with them, clutching them every day.”

Nan went on to Arkansas last week after receiving the doctor’s report as she had originally planned. If the LPGA were a team, Stanford noted, Nan would be a team mom.

“People love her out here,” she said, and the feeling is mutual.

Doctors have categorized Nan’s cancer as stage 4. She had a bone scan on Wednesday and is awaiting results.

Stanford found Kemper Lakes especially difficult during an early-week practice round, but then cancer offered a different perspective: It’s nothing like the test her mother is facing.

Stanford’s mind ran wild last week in Arkansas. She played on autopilot. Golf doesn’t matter in the grand scheme, she said, but she’s trying to make it matter because it brings Nan joy. If Angela plays well, mom gets to see her on TV.

“Mentally it’s hard,” said Mallon, “but that phone call after you play is the best thing in the world too. You know they’ve been following you all day, and that has distracted them from what’s happening.”

Nan is a fighter. Stanford wants to honor her upbeat mother by doing her job well, because that’s what Nan did for decades working for the city of Saginaw, Texas.

So she’s carrying on in her 71st consecutive major at the KPMG playing tough for mom, who wouldn’t have it any other way.

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