Plenty of players would love to be able to say what the now 42-year-old Angela Stanford said when Pat Hurst rang to ask if she would like to be her assistant captain at next year’s Solheim Cup in Toledo, Ohio.
Where others in Angela’s position (she has played in the match six times) might have struggled to disguise the fact that they would sooner be playing, Stanford was able to tell Hurst straightaway that she was “at peace” with her golf. “I’m at a very good place in my life and in my career right now,” Stanford said.
In other words, she had done what she had set out to do in her chosen sport and the role of assistant captain, as they say, was something else. When quizzed further on the subject, she explained that if, in playing as hard as she always does, she chanced to find herself in line for a team place, it was not a thought to occupy her mind at the moment. “For now, I’m the assistant captain and I’m thrilled to have that role,” she said.
Her first move, after she and Hurst had finished their conversation, had been to ring her parents while in a state fluttering between tears and total excitement.
It was back in the middle of 2013 that I chanced upon a magazine article in which the then 35-year-old Stanford outlined her intention of making a successful defense of her 2012 HSBC Women’s Champions title in Singapore, and of going on from there to win her first major.
Ten years earlier, this five-time winner on the LPGA Tour had come within a whisker of securing that first major at the 2003 US Open at Pumpkin Ridge. That week, she was involved in a three-way playoff in which she missed from 3½ feet at the fourth extra hole to lose to Hilary Lunke, who had proceeded to hole from just inside her. Eight years on and she had a couple of other close shaves with top-5 finishes in each of the Kraft Nabisco and the U.S. Women’s Open.
“There have been times when I’ve been kind of whiny and I’ve needed a captain or an assistant who can say, ‘Hey, knock it off. Let’s go play.’ ” – Angela Stanford
Again, in that aforementioned magazine piece, she mentioned that she had a hunch that she would play her best golf “over the next three or four years.”
She had to wait a bit longer than that – until 2018 to be precise, with the event in question the Evian Championship.
Pat Hurst would have pored through all of the above information and, in summing up Stanford’s qualities for her Zoom audience the other day, she picked out the ones which she thought would count for most in their new alliance. “It’s Angela’s fire, her passion, her determination, and her love of the red, white and blue,” Hurst said.
When the conversation turned to the role of a captain and her assistants, the two agreed that while it would not hurt to have some of Hurst’s other assistants bringing different views to bear, the two of them were absolutely on the same page. For one golden rule on which they agreed, they opted for, “Don’t let the players keep saying sorry!” For another, they opted for the importance of honesty.
Here, Stanford expanded by making mention of the matches in which she had struggled.
“There have been times when I’ve been kind of whiny and I’ve needed a captain or an assistant who can say, ‘Hey, knock it off. Let’s go play.’ What that boils down to is that you need to stop being a baby,” Stanford said. “It is all about honesty. You’ve got to tell people what they need to hear.”
Stanford’s honesty takes in the answering of difficult media questions.
Where some players preferred not to talk on the theme of “men behaving badly” at the start of 2019, she gave a weary sigh about the situation before saying precisely what she thought.
To recap, it was all about Sergio García, at what was an admittedly difficult time for him, having used his feet, and in one instance a club, to ruffle up a few greens in Saudi Arabia. At much the same time, there was the case of Bryson DeChambeau, who slammed his putter into a practice putting green at the WGC-Mexico Championship. And before each of those incidents, there had been the improbable case of Justin Rose laying into a couple of wedges which had let him down in Jakarta.
One very interesting point which Stanford wanted to make was how the same easy-come, easy-go arrangement enjoyed by the men did not apply to the women. Though their prize money had gone up, the women could not, for the most part, afford the luxury of breaking things. In those instances where they did, they would be the ones paying for the replacements.
Stanford admitted to having behaved badly herself from time to time in her younger days before adding that she had mellowed a lot: “I wouldn’t do that kind of thing today. I realised long ago that golfers look ridiculous when they behave badly.”
Harsh but true.
One way or another, she and Hurst are going to make for the formidable pair that they will need to be when they come up against a European side which, once again, will be captained by Scotland’s Catriona Matthew. As everyone knows from the 2019 match at Gleneagles, the one in which Europe turned what looked like a certain loss into a breath-taker of a last-minute victory, Matthew doesn’t miss a trick.
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