This is how it had to end.
With one last agonizing trial to endure.
With one last punch in the gut leaving her to stagger off the 18th hole feeling as if she squandered yet another chance to win a major championship, maybe her last chance.
It all made sense.
That’s what Angela Stanford so eloquently explained through raking sobs of joy with her name being inscribed upon the Evian Championship trophy.
At 40, Stanford understood how the emotional upheaval she battled over the last four holes defined more than this day.
It defined her career.
“I know myself very well,” Stanford told GolfChannel.com. “I make a lot of bad swings, a lot of bad decisions, but, ultimately, I had to be me.
“I’m a fighter and a grinder, and I told myself `Let’s just keep fighting to the end.’ Whether it was going to end up good or bad, I wasn’t going to give up.”
That’s the attitude Stanford says she sees in her mother, Nan, who is amid a second battle with breast cancer. Stanford’s backstory made this victory all the more emotional. She won knowing her mother was back in Saginaw, Texas, watching the finish on TV with her father, Steve.
“My mom continues to blow me away with her attitude,” Stanford said. “Yes, she has her good days and her bad days, but she is a fighter.”
Stanford called her mom twice after winning, the first time as she walked to the trophy presentation. They couldn’t get much out the first time.
“I was crying; she was crying,” Stanford said.
They FaceTimed after she had the trophy in hand.
“I showed her the trophy,” Stanford said. “She may be the first to drink from it.”
Stanford has watched her mother sick in the mornings going though chemotherapy, but she marvels at how she bounces back. She could see the excitement in her parents during their video chat.
“I think they were starting the party without me,” she said.
It’s a party a long time in the planning.
“Eighteen years in the planning,” Stanford said.
Stanford arrived at Evian 0 for 76 in the majors.
She broke through all the scar tissue and doubt that built up in those disappointments.
“As the years go on, and you have all the near misses, you think, `Wow, am I ever going to get that close again?’” Stanford said. “For the longest time I thought I was a major winner. I thought I was good enough.
“Not getting it, doubt starts to creep in.”
Fifteen years ago, Stanford gave herself a chance to win the U.S. Women’s Open. Hilary Lunke beat her and Kelly Robbins in a playoff, but Stanford played as if it were only a matter of time until she won a major. She went on to win five LPGA titles and become a staple on the American Solheim Cup team.
The majors, however, became a string of disappointments.
“God is funny,” Stanford said. “He catches you off guard, just when you think maybe you’re done.”
Stanford looked as if she might be done more than once over the dizzying final four holes Sunday in France.
Five shots behind at day’s start, Stanford mounted a charge, tying Amy Olson for the lead after an eagle at the 15th. With 217 yards to the front of the green, she roped a 7-wood to 6 feet and made the putt.
Stanford punched the air in celebration.
A hole later, she felt like she got punched.
She double bogeyed the 16th. She pushed a terrible tee shot to the right, into thick rough, hacked her pitch through the green and nearly into a creek, then watched her next pitch come up short and roll back to her feet.
What was she thinking?
“I wanted to throw up,” Stanford said.
Old demons came to visit.
“Here you are again,” Stanford said to herself. “This is as close as you've been in I don't know how long. So now what?”
How about a finish no one saw coming?
Stanford holed a 25-foot birdie at the 17th to get back within one shot of Olson.
Stanford said she felt like throwing up again.
At the 18th, a tough finishing hole, Stanford hit her approach to 15 feet to give herself another birdie chance.
Still, true to the arc of her career, Stanford endured another blow. Her birdie putt somehow cruelly curled around the cup, dying behind the hole.
The miss weakened her knees. She dropped into a squat, before gathering herself and gazing up into the sky for the longest time.
“I thought, `I’ve lost another one,’” Stanford said. “I really thought I needed to make that to get into a playoff.
“That's when I started crying. I was like, `Man, it doesn't matter what I do, I'm never going to catch one of these.’”
Stanford was one shot back with Olson finishing up behind her, but fate veered Stanford’s way when Olson pulled her final tee shot into the rough. Olson had to pitch out and ended up making double bogey.
There was angst for Stanford as she signed autographs waiting behind the 18th green.
Olson, Mo Martin and Sei Young Kim all had putts inside 20 feet that could have forced a playoff. They all missed.
“Obviously, disappointed to finish the way I did,” said Olson, who had at least a share of the Sunday lead until missing that last putt. “Honestly, I did everything I could.”
Stanford’s victory is a popular one on tour.
Kristy McPherson, a close friend to Stanford, was early in her round at the Murphy USA El Dorado Shootout in Arkansas when a Symetra Tour official tracked her down to inform her Stanford won.
“I had chill bumps,” McPherson said. “Winning a major has always been Angela’s goal. She would have traded her five LPGA victories for a major.”
Stanford rose as high as No. 6 in the world after winning twice in ’08 and again early in ’09. She went to majors expecting to win back then. Fellow tour pros could see Stanford’s frustration build as she failed to claim one. She entered this week No. 76 in the world rankings.
“I’m just really happy for her,” said Stacy Lewis, a two-time major winner and fellow Texan “For a long time, I think she let the fact that she hadn’t won a major define her and her career.
“But the last few years, you could see her more excited going to the majors again. She had a better attitude going to them. A win like this, it’s worth the wait.”
Both Lewis and McPherson said Stanford’s victory bolsters yet another major ambition Stanford holds.
“Angela really wants to be the American Solheim Cup captain,” McPherson said. “This really helps her with that.”
Stanford began working with a new coach last year, Todd Kolb in Sioux Falls, S.D. He also works with Kim Kaufman, who recommended him.
Winless since 2012 and about to turn 40, Stanford went to Kolb looking to rebuild her game. They went to work on her putting, short game and helping her find “clarity” in knowing how to address her misses, especially a hook off the tee.
“Watching Angela play those last four holes, it really exemplifies what she’s all about,” Kolb said. “She plays with a lot of grit. She’s tough, and tough people, they keep fighting.”
Stanford’s victory delivered more than a defining moment to her career. It delivered one for Evian, an event that has struggled to thrive in its new status as the tour’s fifth major.
Stanford helped make Evian everything you wanted in a major, with the risk/reward nature of Evian Golf Resort paving the way for bold charges, dispiriting stumbles and more drama than we’ve seen there in Evian’s first five years as a major.
With a week under blue skies providing a respite from its weather-plagued history since being moved to September as a major, Evian showed the promise it brings in a move to July next year.
Stanford will cherish the memories she won on the mountainside in the shadow of the French Alps. She will cherish the trophy, too.
“This thing may go everywhere with me for a while,” Stanford said. “I'm going to stare at it for a long time.”