Angela Stanford busied herself with autographs behind the 18th green as a trio of players battled to force a playoff at the Evian Championship. The tenacious Mo Martin bit down on her fist as her birdie attempt slipped past the hole. Sei Young Kim, who had lost her way on the back nine, missed too.
Suddenly Amy Olson, the small-town player who looked so calm on the big stage, was the only person standing between Stanford and victory. When Olson’s 6-foot bogey putt didn’t fall, Stanford burst into tears. She became the second-oldest player in LPGA history to win her first major, behind Fay Crocker, who won the 1955 U.S. Women’s Open at 40 years, 11 months. Stanford turns 41 on Nov. 28.
“I have no idea what just happened,” said Stanford through heavy tears after her win at Evian-les-Bains, France.
Stanford’s rocky finish at the Evian Championship mirrored the way she has felt throughout her 18 years on the LPGA. After making eagle on the par-5 15th hole to take a share of the lead with Olson, she immediately double-bogeyed the par-3 16th. But then a birdie at the 17th put her within one, and she set herself up beautifully for a chance to catch Olson on 18.
“I know me very well and I did a bunch of stupid stuff,” said Stanford, “but deep down I’m a fighter, I’m a grinder, and I’ve always been that. I just kept telling myself, ‘You just got to be who you are.’ ”
Stanford’s birdie effort on the 72nd hole could not have been any closer. She looked toward the heavens after the miss and fought back tears.
Olson, playing in the group behind Stanford, had missed her tee shot left and couldn’t get her second shot out of the gnarly rough. Her third, while struck solidly, forced a long and difficult putt for par to win the tournament outright. She got too aggressive on the first putt and the ensuing three-putt dropped Olson into a four-way tie for second with Austin Ernst, Martin and Kim.
Stanford carded matching 68s over the weekend to finish at 12-under 272, becoming the first American to win a major this season. Six Americans finished inside the top nine, with Ryann O’Toole (T-6) and Jessica Korda (T-8) rounding out the group.
Olson has certainly proved that her game has gone to another level this season. Time and again she gave herself good looks at birdie. A USGA champion and prolific winner in college, Olson isn’t the type to let that unfortunate finish keep her down.
“Obviously disappointed to finish the way I did,” said Olson, “but honestly I hit every shot, I committed to every shot, I did everything I could, and double bogeys happen.”
Olson committed to not looking at leaderboards throughout the day, and it wasn’t until she was sizing up her options from the rough on the 18th that she asked brother Nathan, her caddie, where she stood.
While this was only Olson’s second legitimate chance at a major title, it was all too familiar territory for Stanford, who lost in an 18-hole playoff to Hilary Lunke at the 2003 U.S. Women’s Open.
Stanford’s victory on a post-card kind of day in France was all the more special knowing that her mom, Nan, was watching back home in Texas. Earlier this summer Nan learned that the cancer she had so courageously fought off in 2009 had returned and metastasized to her bones.
Nan told her daughter to keep playing and traveled with her as recently as last month to Portland to watch her compete.
“Glad she got to see it,” said a grateful Stanford. “She may be the first to drink out of the trophy.” Gwk