Perseverance pays as Angela Stanford triumphs in 76th major start

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Perseverance pays as Angela Stanford triumphs in 76th major start

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Perseverance pays as Angela Stanford triumphs in 76th major start

Angela Stanford snap-hooked her opening tee shot at the Evian Championship. Walking down that first fairway on Thursday, the 40-year-old thought to herself, “Why am I still doing this? Why am I fighting so hard for something that I’m not sure I’m ever going to find?”

She doubled that first hole, continued to hit it left and, after a three-putt on the par-5 14th (her fifth hole), wondered if she could pick herself up off the mat one more time. It was Stanford’s 76th major championship appearance. And while she desperately had tried to stop feeling bitter about not winning a major in 18 years on the LPGA, moments like this felt all too familiar.

“I remember thinking, I just don’t know if I have much fight left,” said Stanford by phone Sunday night. “I know I’m a fighter and that’s what I do but …”

Stanford was back in her room at the Hôtel Ermitage, with a bottle of champagne and 225 text messages on her phone. She’d finally done it. Picked herself up, dug deep in her 436th LPGA start and fought her way into the winner’s circle. Now a major champion, she’d never felt more relieved. Especially with her mother, Nan, back home in Texas battling cancer for a second time.

Of all the breakthrough moments in 2018 – and there have been plenty – none carried the emotional weight of Stanford’s Evian victory. After all, few on the LPGA have been at it as long.

So far this season, four players have won for the first time after 100-plus career starts: Pernilla Lindberg (200 starts), Moriya Jutanugarn (156), Thidapa Suwannapura (121) and Marina Alex (103).

“It just proves so much to myself,” said 31-year-old Lindberg after outlasting Inbee Park in an eight-hole playoff at the ANA Inspiration in March. “You know, this game is hard. It’s so many times that I doubt myself out here.”

Stanford, now a six-time winner on the LPGA, knows a thing or two about doubts. There was a time not long ago she thought about severely scaling back her schedule, perhaps even hanging it up in the not-too-distant future.

But the never-quit part of Stanford wouldn’t let her slow down. Instead, she did the opposite, hiring a new swing instructor in Todd Kolb and playing in 29 events last season.

Earlier this year over a plate of tacos in Phoenix, Stanford talked about what she considers to be the “sweet spot” in the women’s game. While the up-and-comers hog most of the headlines, Stanford believes most females don’t hit their peak on tour until ages 27 to 33. Many call it quits before giving themselves enough time.

“I think unfortunately our society is now, now, give me now,” Stanford said.

On Friday at Evian, Stanford hit a beauty into the final hole and looked up at the most beautiful sky over a shimmering Lake Geneva. Rays of sunshine peeked through the clouds and Stanford had a spiritual moment right there on the 18th as she put the finishing touches on a second-round 64.

“I don’t know why you keep bringing me to this point,” Stanford prayed. “I don’t care. I‘m with you, win or lose.”

Internal conversations often make or break championships. The thing is players so rarely let the world in on what’s really going through their minds.

That’s where Stanford is different. She doesn’t mind sharing the ugly.

As Stanford walked up to the 16th tee box Sunday on the heels of an eagle, she couldn’t avoid seeing her face on the scoreboard next to T-1.

Do you know how long it has been since I’ve been this close to a major? You’re three holes away.

“I freaked out,” Stanford said. “The very next swing was the worst of the golf tournament.”

Oh crap. A lot of people probably saw that.

Stanford eventually got up and down for a double bogey, a score she said might have been worse in previous years, and gave herself another pep talk.

Believe in something. Think about what you know. You don’t know anything about winning a major – think about what you know. Believe in what you’re working on.

For the longest time, Stanford had stopped believing.

Turns out self-belief is a constant battle, especially for those who spend decades chasing a dream. Self-belief shifts like the wind, changing day by day, and sometimes shot by shot.

“I have a deep understanding and deep appreciation of what just happened today,” Stanford said. “I have seen it go south 70-plus times before.”

Only this time, it didn’t. Stanford believed.

When it was over, she FaceTimed with her mom after taking photos with the trophy on the fifth green.

“Did you see it?” Stanford asked.

“No,” a tearful Nan replied. “Your dad was watching, but I was praying.”

And there it was – the sweet spot. Worth every bit of the wait. Gwk

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