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Already Riding High, Stanford Embraces Leadoff Spot

By Adam Stanley

| Dec 8, 2020

Texan Angela Stanford is adding one more honor to her long career: hitting the first shot of the 75th U.S. Women's Open. (Jeff Haynes/USGA)

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Angela Stanford didn’t think her victory at the Volunteers of America Classic could get much sweeter. That is until the Texas native drove 3½ hours from Dallas to Houston, and found out that she would be hitting the first official shot of the 75th U.S. Women’s Open Championship on Thursday morning at Champions Golf Club.

“It’s a big deal,” she said. “When I heard I was going at 9:20 I thought it was probably an hour into the tee times, so it was cool to find out that it’s first off. It’s always such an honor to hit that first ball. It’s so cool that they thought of me… I know there are some other Texans in the field, but I guess this means I’m the oldest!”

At 43, Stanford has a long history with the U.S. Women’s Open. This year marks her 21st time teeing it up in the storied major, and she finished as runner-up to Hilary Lunke in a memorable 18-hole playoff in 2003. At a media event in early November, she recalled watching Meg Mallon win in 1991 in Fort Worth (Stanford’s hometown) and getting a visor signed by the champion, a piece of memorabilia Stanford still owns.

That 1991 U.S. Women’s Open – which Mallon won by two shots over Pat Bradley – was the first Women’s Open contested in Texas. The USGA selected Colonial Country Club (a longtime PGA Tour venue) as the host site, and this year’s Women’s Open will mark only the second time it has been played in the Lone Star State. Champions is another mainstay in men’s golf – with a U.S. Open, U.S. Amateur, Ryder Cup, and two separate PGA Tour events being played on its storied fairways and greens. That makes this year extra special for Stanford.

There was a concern that, given COVID-19’s unpredictability, the big-time Texas moment might not have happened at all. But the USGA, in concert with Champions and other key partners, was able to pivot and bring the U.S. Women’s Open to the schedule in December.

“I'm excited that I get to get in my truck and go down I-45 and I get to play a U.S. Open in Houston. I've been so fired up about this all year,” said Stanford after her victory in Dallas Sunday night. She won by two shots over So Yeon Ryu, Inbee Park and Yealimi Noh, Stanford’s seventh LPGA Tour victory but first since her maiden major title, the Evian Championship in September 2018.

Stanford has waited a long time to see a U.S. Women’s Open be played in her native Texas, but after 2019, she has a new appreciation for patience and fortitude.

She started the Angela Stanford Foundation in 2009, and Stanford ran the Los Angeles Marathon in March 2020 – raising more than $12,000 for her foundation.

Near the end of the 26.2-mile route, which starts at Dodger Stadium and ends at the Santa Monica Pier, she said that all the people who donated money for the kids the foundation supports inspired her to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

“The first couple miles I thought, this is the best idea I ever had… at mile 8, I was loving it… but by mile 18 I thought, this is the dumbest thing I’ve ever done,” said Stanford with a laugh. “But completing that marathon showed me that you can do anything you put your mind to as long as you have a proper plan.”

Stanford admitted that her 2019 season was one of her worst on the LPGA Tour, and she said she needed to focus on her discipline in order to improve. Training for the marathon, she said, was one way to do just that.

She said running is a lot like golf in a sense that you can’t get too far ahead of yourself. Thinking about mile 26 when you’ve just done your first mile isn’t going to do you any favors, she said.

“I’ve struggled with that in golf,” she admitted. “I’ve had a good warmup and I’ve arrived at the first tee feeling good and I’m already thinking ahead to my final score. I got ahead of myself on the golf course and even if you start out really good, I started thinking about the ending.

“You have to stay in the moment. On the golf course, you have to get to the next hole.”

It may be easier for Stanford to stay in the moment this week, since she won’t have the dozens of fans who were planning to cheer her on in person this week. But just like the marathon, she’s ready to take on the grind that is the U.S. Women’s Open.

She’ll be first off the tee come Thursday, and who knows? Given her momentum from last week, maybe she’ll be first on the podium, too.

“Running the marathon helped me more than I ever thought it would,” said Stanford. “You have to stay in the moment. It’s something I’ll always take with me.”

Just like hitting the first shot of the 75th U.S. Women’s Open.

Adam Stanley is a multimedia golf journalist based in Ottawa, Ontario.

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