The past 11 LPGA majors have been won by 11 different players. There have been long-awaited victors, like then 40-year-old Angela Stanford, as well as long-shots like Hannah Green and Pernilla Lindberg. World-beaters like former No. 1s Ariya Jutanugarn and Sung Hyun Park and a rookie in Jeongeun Lee6. A homegrown favorite in Georgia Hall at Royal Lytham and a heart-warming tale of redemption in In-Kyung Kim.
Such variety is a testament to the unprecedented depth in the women’s game. But consider this – that streak could end in a hurry as the LPGA puts on back-to-back majors in the upcoming fortnight. Imagine if one of the game’s all-stars, or up-and-comers, caught fire and rattled off two in a row?
While no one particularly likes the idea of playing consecutive majors, heck the men complain about having only a month in between, a potential career-defining opportunity awaits.
Who will make the most of it?
Former British Open champion Karen Stupples likes Jin Young Ko’s chances, given the premium on ball-striking at the Evian Championship and Woburn, site of this year’s WBO. Ko, of course, won the ANA Inspiration earlier this year and lit it up in the final round on Saturday in Midland Mich.
Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz fancies Lexi Thompson’s chances.
“Last week she hit the ball better than I’ve ever seen her hit it in her entire career,” said Foltz, referring to the Marathon Classic, “and I’ve seen her a lot.”
The Evian will carry an old-school feel this year as it returns to a July date. The course will play firmer as temperatures rise to the low-90s. There will be more tourists in the streets and fans lining the ropes.
“Pizza Rapido will probably be open later,” joked Stanford, referring to the most popular hangout for players and caddies alike. In fact, it’s where Stanford celebrated her first major victory last year with three major winners – Brooke Henderson, Brittany Lang and Lindberg.
Nearly a year later, Stanford has had plenty of time to reflect on the reality of winning a major compared with the dream. She decided that what it means and how it feels depends largely on what point it happens in a player’s career.
Had she won the 2003 U.S. Women’s Open at the start of her career (she lost in an 18-hole playoff), would it have meant as much? And how different would her career have been?
These questions, of course, are impossible to answer. But given that Stanford’s major moment came at a time when most LPGA players are retiring, she began to wonder if she was up for climbing that mountain again.
“People say age is just a number,” she said. “I believe that, but when you do what we do – there’s no more offseason on this tour. The demands are just so much greater on your body and your mind. There is a difference between 25 and 35 and 45.”
Dealing with a substantial injury (rib) for the first time in her career after Evian didn’t help. Going to the physio trailer before every round and traveling with a makeshift foam roller are new inconveniences.
And yet, Stanford is grateful.
When a player wins at a young age, she said, it often becomes part of the process. When a player wins a major at 40, her sixth LPGA title, it makes a career feel whole.
“It has been as sweet as you can imagine it would be,” she said.
The fact that a five-year exemption comes along with it? Even sweeter.
“Who at 41 can say ‘I don’t have to worry about going back to Q-School for the rest of my career?’ ” she asked. “Or staying at a certain spot on the money list?”
There are days it still doesn’t feel real.
Sometimes when Stanford hears “Out of Saginaw, Texas, a six-time winner and major champion,” on the first tee, she looks around wondering “Who is that?”
And then it all comes flooding back. That player draped in the American flag who looked up toward the heavens cradling a trophy last year in France?
That was her.