Angela Stanford’s first experience at a U.S. Women’s Open came in 1991, when Meg Mallon won at Colonial Country Club not far from Stanford’s Fort Worth home. Seventh-grade Stanford bought a visor that week at Colonial and, years later, when she was competing alongside Mallon as a rookie on the LPGA, asked the World Golf Hall of Famer to sign it. It remains one of her prized pieces of sports memorabilia.
“I just never dreamed that I’d get to play one in Texas,” said a giddy and grateful 43-year-old Stanford.
The 75th U.S. Women’s Open at Champions Golf Club, which gets underway Dec. 10, marks only the second time the championship will be held in the Lone Star State. It’s a startling stat given how many of LPGA legends have hailed from Texas, including Babe Zaharias, Kathy Whitworth, Betsy Rawls, Marilynn Smith, Judy Rankin, Sandra Palmer and Carol Mann. Stanford got teary-eyed just thinking about the opportunity on the 4 ½-hour drive down to media day last month.
“I know it’s a once-in-a-lifetime deal,” she said. “I can’t even put it into words.”
Meg Mallon holds the U.S. Women’s Open trophy at the 1991 U.S. Women’s Open Championship at Colonial CC in Fort Worth, Texas, on July 14, 1991. (USGA)
There are seven Texans in the 156-player field, including three major winners and two-time U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Kristen Gillman. Brittany Lang is the only Texan competing who has won a U.S. Women’s Open.
Champions owner Jack Burke Jr., the oldest living Masters champion, still shows up to work every day at age 97. (He’ll turn 98 on Jan. 29.) The club’s rich history of tournaments includes the 1969 U.S. Open, 1967 Ryder Cup (captained by Ben Hogan), five PGA Tour Championships (won by the likes of Tiger Woods and David Duval) and the Houston Champions International (now the Vivant Houston Open), won by Arnold Palmer, Roberto De Vicenzo and Hubert Green.
No club in Texas has hosted more USGA championships than Champions.
Stacy Lewis grew up down the road in The Woodlands, Texas, and actually joined Champions when she and husband Gerrod Chadwell first moved to Houston.
“If you want to play with the best players,” she said, “that’s where you go.”
The couple now live at Golf Club of Houston, where Chadwell’s University of Houston team practices. Lewis, however, was recently extended a membership to Burkes’ historic club in the run-up to the Women’s Open.
“I’ve actually played Jackrabbit more than I’ve played Cypress,” said the former No. 1, referring to the second course that will be utilized championship week due to limited daylight.
While the Cypress course is open with massive greens, Jackrabbit presents a tighter test with a number of doglegs and smaller green complexes. A player could hit 16 or 17 greens on Cypress, Lewis said, and still shoot over par.
Given that the PGA’s Tour’s Houston Open welcomed fans in November, Lewis held out hope that childhood friends and family could come out to Champions in December.
“I don’t know if they would’ve given me enough tickets,” she said.
Instead she’ll get only two guest passes and two support passes, and they’re not interchangeable either as everyone must be tested for COVID-19.
Cheyenne Knight won her first LPGA event last year in Dallas. The Woodlands native grew up about 30 minutes from Champions and played in a number of nine-hole event at the club as a kid. Her last competitive round there was a U.S. Women’s Amateur qualifier her senior year of high school.
“Honestly I feel our big advantage is Bermuda in general,” she said of the Texas contingent, “knowing what different shots to hit.”
Of course, it’s not just the natives who have a leg up. Players like Sei Young Kim, So Yeon Ryu and Celine Boutier now call Texas their U.S. home.
Growing up in McKinney, Lang always thought her game was tailor-made for a U.S. Women’s Open and that she was destined to win one. She nearly did her first time out in 2005, finishing second to Birdie Kim alongside fellow amateur Morgan Pressel.
Victory came 11 years later and now Lang, 35, begins a new USWO chapter as she competes for the first time as a mom. She was supposed to take a scouting trip to Houston for media day last month but woke up to a left arm that was so inflamed she couldn’t pick it up. The pain, thankfully, went away as quickly as it appeared and she was back on tour for the Pelican Women’s Championship.
With no time left to preview the course, however, Lang will rely on the local knowledge of her caddie, Chris Nash, who happened to call Champions his home course growing up.
“I’m not too worried,” said Lang of learning two golf courses in the span of three days.
Brittany Lang captured the 2016 U.S. Women’s Open after a three-hole playoff at CordeValle Golf Club in San Martin, California. Photo by Getty Images
Stanford, a six-time winner on the LPGA, left her practice rounds at Champions with a list of “homework” that had lag putting at the top. Those who head into Houston blind will have much to cram into early-week practice rounds. One could spend a year mapping out the greens at Cypress, Stanford said, much less one day.
While the list of supporters Stanford expected to make the trek South from Fort Worth can’t make it, her most ardent fans – mom and dad – will be there for her 21st consecutive USWO appearance. She thought she might pack that vintage visor too, for old time’s sake.
Her seventh-grade self wouldn’t believe it.
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