SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – The course played longer, the holes were placed in some challenging locations, and the winds gusted, bringing tenuous uncertainty to every full shot. So, naturally, Angela Stanford, admittedly one of the least patient players in the 68th U.S. Women’s Open, was able to tack her way around Sebonack Golf Club Friday with an impressive 4-under-par 68 – five strokes better than her first-round effort.
Golf this brilliant obviously requires the execution of a solid game plan with splendid ball striking. Stanford, a five-time LPGA Tour winner, is capable of both, so an explanation for her fine display and accompanying leap to the first page of the leader board figured to be enlightening, if not instructive. Figured to be, anyway.
“I have no idea,” Stanford, 35, replied with a smile when asked how she had posted such a handsome score on a day when the scoring average was edging toward 77, more than two strokes higher than the field average in Round 1.
Perhaps it’s better to not know.
What Stanford does have a grip on are her strengths and weaknesses. On the debit side of the ledger, the Fort Worth, Texas, native will explain that she is not a particularly patient golfer, an intangible often required when contending in a U.S. Women’s Open.
“Yeah, people like to say I'm not very patient, so happy to be standing here,” Stanford said after a tidy tee-to-green performance in which she hit 13 of the 14 generous fairways and 15 greens in regulation. “But, you know, at least I’m learning.”
Despite her lack of a major title, Stanford actually is a relatively quick learner, and it wouldn’t come as a surprise if she broke through, perhaps even this week.
Ten years ago, in just her fourth professional season and fourth start in the U.S. Women’s Open, Stanford was part of an epic three-way playoff at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club in Cornelius, Ore., with Kelly Robbins and eventual winner Hilary Lunke.
The game’s cognoscenti figured it wouldn’t be long before Stanford would win the championship.
“Well, I'm still waiting,” said Stanford, who liked Sebonack almost immediately and is being rewarded with reciprocal affection. “But, you know, my answer to this question hasn't changed. I feel very fortunate to have had that opportunity, and that experience. But I’m also very fortunate that I’m still playing and still competing at U.S. Opens. Obviously, I’d love to have that trophy, and I’m very blessed with where I am now, and I know my time's coming; I just don’t know when.”
Moving up some 30 spots on Friday and trailing 36-hole clubhouse leader I.K. Kim by just four shots certainly gives Stanford another realistic chance, just two years after another near miss at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs. Stanford held a share of the 54-hole lead, but shot a closing 1-over 72 and ended up fourth, three strokes out of a playoff won by So Yeon Ryu.
No longer one of the young hotshots on the LPGA Tour, Stanford said she’s trying to play smarter to keep up with the competition. Though she hails from Texas, she laughs at questions about navigating the wind so adeptly. “I hate the wind,” she blurted out before acknowledging that her roots in the Lone Star State serve her well, almost subliminally, because she makes adjustments to hit low knockdown shots without even trying.
Now if she could just play without too many distracting thoughts, she’d be all set. And she’s learning that, too, or trying to learn how to do that.
“My caddie [Dan Chapman] said something to me last week because we were talking about another event, and he said something that's made a world of difference,” Stanford said. “… He's great when it comes to holding me accountable … I get really negative, and he's really positive. And he’s like, ‘You've just got to pray for acceptance.’ And I was like, whoa. I didn't see that one coming.
“I just need to accept certain things, and I think I've been very upset that I haven't won a major. Like I was saying earlier, I'm very fortunate to still be playing. So I think there is a level of peace right now, and it’s different. I'm not as mad as I usually am. I have a lot of great things to be thankful for, so I'm trying to enjoy this week, and I'm trying to enjoy the scenery. But I'm trying to accept things a little bit better.”
If she does that well enough over the next two rounds, perhaps she’ll be hoisting a trophy on Sunday night.
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.