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3 decades later, Angela Stanford lives U.S. Women's Open dream

Angela Stanford wins 2020 Volunteers of America Classic
Angela Stanford, who as a schoolgirl attended the 1991 U.S. Women’s Open in Fort Worth during the event’s most recent visit to Texas, will bring something special to the return this week in Houston: the trophy from a victory Sunday at her hometown LPGA event.

The USWO returns to Texas, where 29 years ago, a Fort Worth schoolgirl drew inspiration from Meg Mallon’s victory at Colonial

When Angela Stanford was in the seventh grade, the U.S. Women’s Open was played at Colonial Country Club in her hometown of Fort Worth. She went, watched Meg Mallon win, and got a visor signed by her fellow American. She still calls it one of her favorite pieces of sports memorabilia.

Now Stanford gets to play her own U.S. Women’s Open in her home state. For just the second time in the championship’s 75-year history, it will be hosted in Texas, at Champions Golf Club in Houston.

Golfers will play one round apiece on the 6,731-yard Cypress Creek course (a longtime part of men’s golf’s biggest events, from the U.S. Open to the U.S. Amateur) and the 6,558-yard Jackrabbit Course before playing the weekend on Cypress. A two-course setup is being used by the USGA for the first time in order to maximize daylight for the 156-player field.

“It was such a fun week and I never dreamed I could get to play one in Texas,” Stanford said in early November of her childhood memory. “I know it’s a once-in-a-lifetime deal, and I can’t even put it into words.

“Driving down [to Champions], it just hit me: I’m driving to practice at a U.S. Open in Texas. I kind of got teared up a little bit.”

Stanford, now 43, has won a major championship along with six other titles on the LPGA Tour. She won the Volunteers of America Classic by two strokes on Sunday for her first victory in more than two years. She also became the first golfer older than 40 to win on the LPGA since 2017. She’s got the momentum from the last week in her favor, and as a native Texan – one of seven in the field of the final major of the year – she’s got a home-state advantage, despite the fact that she said this U.S Women’s Open, her 21st, was the hardest to prepare for.

“I can’t imagine playing a tour event and then going to a U.S. Open venue having to learn 36 holes. I don’t think you’re going to map those greens in a year, let alone a day,” Stanford said of Cypress Creek’s massive putting surfaces, which average more than 10,000 square feet.

“I feel like you’re going to have to come here in advance or else you’re going to have to cram,” said Cheyenne Knight, a fellow Texan and LPGA Tour winner. “You could have a 70-, 80-, sometimes 90-footer [at Cypress Creek].”

Knight joked that she has a friend on the LPGA Tour who said she would help teach Knight how to putt on Poa annua grass in exchange for help with Bermudagrass, which is what the women will play at Champions. That, along with the unpredictable weather, is what will trip up the U.S. Women’s Open competitors – they don’t usually play tournaments on Bermuda, and certainly not tournaments in mid-December – which is why the Texans have an advantage.

“You don’t know what you’re going to get,” said Knight, who grew up about 30 minutes from Champions. “But I know what to expect of the golf course, which is an advantage.”

Mother Nature also could play a role at the U.S. Women’s Open.

Last week in Dallas, the LPGA Tour played the Volunteers of America Classic as a U.S. Women’s Open lead-in. Most of the women played in jackets and toques. The forecast for Houston, however, is set to be more reasonable, with highs in the 60s and 70s and potential rain on Friday and Saturday. Still, according to Stacy Lewis, a Houston resident and former world No. 1, she’ll be more ready than her playing competitors for what might come, weather-wise.  

“Who knows, really,” she said of the forecast. “Playing [Bermuda] grass and with this weather, the [Texas] girls are just more used to it.”

But despite the uncertainty of the weather, having to play two golf courses for the first time ever at a U.S. Women’s Open, and the spot on the schedule, it’s very much a massive week for women’s golf.

Nearly all of the top players will be teeing it up in Houston, including world No.1 Jin Young Ko (it will be her first major championship of the year) and former No.1 So Yeon Ryu (who tied for second at the VOA Classic and also will be making her 2020 major-championship debut). Top Americans including Danielle Kang (twice a winner in 2020) and Nelly Korda (at No. 3, the highest-ranked American in the world) will be there. Fellow American Lexi Thompson, runner-up at the U.S. Women’s Open last year, will be playing her 14th U.S. Women’s Open – she hasn’t missed one since she was 12 years old. Sei Young Kim, who won the Women’s PGA in dominating fashion, will look to win back-to-back majors. Forty-two women will make their U.S. Women’s Open debuts, including Knight.

These next two weeks (the CME Group Tour Championship offers the biggest first-place check in women’s golf, at $1.1 million) are going to be important ones.

“You look at the two purses and it’s about $8 million… if that doesn’t get your focus or attention, I don’t know what will,” Lewis said. “It’s our two biggest weeks of the year thrown in at the end, and you need to work your butt off.”

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