By THE NATION
“At this point last year, I was just getting to the point where I was finally hitting balls,” Stanford said. “Now being here and seeing what I missed, it just makes me more mad.”
Stanford also endured what she termed her “first really bad year,” never cracking the top 20 for the first time in her career and failing to qualify for the season’s last five tournaments.
“It made me rethink some things. It made me wonder how hard I'm working,” said Stanford, whose Evian win at age 40 made her the second-oldest first-time major winner in LPGA Tour history. “It made me realize I have to work harder because these kids are so good today. So I had some time to think about some stuff.”
2020 marks Stanford’s 20th season on the LPGA Tour and she’s aiming to quickly rebound from that season to forget. She doubled down on her off-season conditioning by using the extended break to train for a marathon, a goal she said has long been on her bucket list.
“I didn't feel very strong mentally last year. I felt pretty weak in general. I thought, you know what, I'm going to figure out how to beat this,” said Stanford, who plans to run the Los Angeles Marathon on March 8. “I have to be stronger mentally out here. I guess the best way to do that is to train for something. So I'm going to do it. And not qualifying for Asia was a blessing for me at this time in my life. I've always enjoyed going to Asia and playing there, but it was nice to be at home in October.”
The Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions is the perfect place for Stanford to begin her season. One of the biggest sports fans on the LPGA Tour, Stanford has thrown out the first pitch three times for her beloved Texas Rangers and even has a Rangers logo on her yardage-book cover. But even the most seasoned fan can be totally starstruck when she comes face to face with some of the biggest stars in sports.
“I go out (at the pro-am party) and I'm staring right at Justin Verlander and I'm like, wow,” said Stanford with a laugh. “I just kind of stopped. I'm like, how cool is this?”
DANIELLE KANG, MARCUS ALLEN FORGE BOND THROUGH RESPECT
Danielle Kang, who sits fourth in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings, is eager to make her second start at the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions presented by Insurance Office of America. She also hopes to tee it up one day with good friend and Pro Football Hall of Fame member Marcus Allen.
“He was like my uncle growing up, so fingers crossed that I’ll get to play with him,” said Kang, who won the 2018 and 2019 Buick LPGA Shanghai to secure a spot in the 26-player field at the Four Seasons Golf and Sports Club Orlando. “He’s like my role model and I would love to be able to play with him if that’s possible at least some of the round. I know we get to re-pair (after each round), and that’s kind of the interaction we had last year.”
“You must tell them when you were an amateur you never beat me, so this is why you want to play me so badly,” Allen added with a laugh. “You can’t typecast her, knowing Danielle. She’s funny and able to do so many things. There is an adventurous side to her, and I think drama as well would fit her repertoire. She is a versatile young lady.”
Not to be lost is their mutual respect. It’s a relationship that has transformed since the death of Kang’s father in 2013.
“I adore her, she calls me her uncle. I’ve got to tell you, when she won her first major it almost brought me to tears,” said Allen. “I think I was one of the first people to call her and leave a message because I was so proud of her and knew she worked so hard for that to happen. She wants to make her dad proud and he would be proud, I know that’s never far from her mind. I want her to realize that dream because she has the makings to be one of the great players in golf, period.”
As the LPGA Tour’s 70th anniversary season gets underway tomorrow, Kang has her goals set on the Olympics and reaching No. 1 in the Rolex Rankings. She looks forward to beginning that push with Allen by her side to jumpstart her 2020 campaign.
“Marcus has known my goals since I was a kid,” Kang said. “Everybody has a different goal on why they start and everyone has a different goal on how they finish. For me, I’m just heading toward my goal and No. 4 is on the way to that.”
ROLEX WOMEN’S WORLD RANKINGS STATISTICAL NOTE
The current average differential between World No. 1 Jin Young Ko and No. 2 Sung Hyun Park is 2.64 points. The last time the difference was at least this large between the top two ranked players was the week of February 13, 2017 when World No. 1 Lydia Ko (10.24) was ahead of No. 2 Ariya Jutanugarn (7.40) by 2.84 average points.
The largest average points’ differential between World No. 1 and No. 2 since the Rolex Rankings began in 2006 is 9.87 points. This occurred the week of April 21, 2008, between World No. 1 Lorena Ochoa (19.16) and No. 2 Annika Sorenstam (9.29).
NOTABLE FIRST-ROUND GROUPINGS
Defending LPGA DRTOC winner Eun Hee Ji will tee off at No. 1 at 8:30 a.m. with NFL stars Patrick Peterson and Case Keenum
Defending celebrity DRTOC winner John Smoltz will tee off No. 1 at 9:10 a.m. with Brooke Henderson and fellow MLB player Josh Donaldson
Leading American Nelly Korda will begin her season at 9:30 a.m. off the first tee with World Series champions Justin Verlander and Roger Clemens
Playing in her first event since giving birth to daughter Emery in July 2019, Brittany Lincicome will tee off No. 1 at 9:40 a.m. with NBA stars Ray Allen and Grant Hill
DESIGNATED HOLE FOR AON RISK REWARD CHALLENGE
The season-long Aon Risk Reward Challenge will highlight the world’s best professional golfers as they tackle the most strategically challenging holes across both the LPGA Tour and PGA TOUR schedules. The player from each Tour on top of the Aon leaderboard at the end of the regular season will receive a $1 million prize.
The designated Aon Risk Reward Challenge hole at the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions is the 550-yard, par-5 17th. The key decision at this hole centers on the second shot. A long drive allows a player to go for the green in two, but with water in front of the green, the risk is evident. 13% of players managed to hit the green in two during last year's tournament. In 2019, the 17th hole at the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions saw one eagle, coming in the second round from Georgia Hall. Last year's winner Eun-Hee Ji made a birdie at the Aon Risk Reward Challenge hole in the final round and went on to win by two strokes.
For more information about the Aon Risk Reward Challenge, visit www.lpga.com/statistics/aon-risk-reward-challenge.
CASEY CASE NOMINATED FOR LPGA’S AXA LPGA VOLUNTEER SERVICE AWARD
LPGA tournament volunteer Casey Case says her husband does not understand why she likes to stay as busy as she is.
But it should come as no surprise that a retired director at Verizon who oversaw business accounts and call centers in five states would want to do anything other than stay swamped.
The Baltimore native retired in 1996, moved to Leesburg, Fla., in 1997, and went to work as a volunteer at a number of Orlando-area golf tournaments, including this week’s Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions.
Case is the winning volunteer at the 2020 Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions and will be honored this week as one of the exemplary nominated volunteers identified at each LPGA tournament this season for the AXA LPGA Volunteer Service Award – presented at the end of the season.
“No matter how much work goes into a tournament, it wouldn’t operate without the hard work of volunteers,” said MacKenzie Meyer, tournament manager of the LPGA’s season-opening event. “Casey Case knows this firsthand, as she has been graciously volunteering for Diamond Resorts tournaments since 2016.”