IRVING — During the early stages of her LPGA Tour career, Angela Stanford uncovered a memento worth saving while thinning out the collection of childhood possessions stored at her parents’ home in Saginaw.The former TCU standout found the visor she wore as a seventh-grader while attending the 1991 U.S. Women’s Open at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth. For grins, Stanford took the visor, which bore the tournament logo, to fellow tourist Meg Mallon — winner of that 1991 event at Colonial — for an autograph during Stanford’s rookie season.Now a five-event winner in her 13th season as an LPGA competitor, Stanford called the signed visor from Mallon “one of the coolest pieces of sports memorabilia that I have.”That visor will carry special significance this week for Stanford, 35. As she heads into Thursday’s opening round of the North Texas LPGA Shootout at Las Colinas Country Club, it serves as a reminder to seize an opportunity long denied to female touring pros from the Lone Star State.“I never thought about winning a professional event in Texas. But it’s a nice reality now,” Stanford said, reflecting on the LPGA’s return to Dallas-Fort Worth with its first full-field event since the 1991 Women’s Open at Colonial. “It’s long overdue.”Stanford said this week will mark her first event where she can sleep in her own bed after a tournament round since 2000, her senior season at TCU. Even better, she and fellow Texans vow they will be motivated by a larger-than-normal collection of family and friends in this week’s galleries.“I don’t want them to just watch me play. I want them to watch me win,” said Stanford, who ranks 18th on the season money list ($154,902) and recorded her first career ace in an LPGA tournament during last week’s LPGA Lotte Championship in Hawaii. “If there’s added pressure, it comes from me.… When I win on the other side of the world, my friends are there that play on tour and my caddie is there. Here, if I were to be able to stand there on Sunday with the trophy, there would be quite a few people that would get to see that that know me. That’s a big deal.”The same opportunity appeals to McKinney resident Brittany Lang and Plano resident Gerina Piller, both of whom carry ball markers shaped like the Lone Star State and adorned with the colors of the state flag.“Gerina’s is bigger. But I have two of them in my bag, in case I lose one,” said Lang, winner of the 2012 Manulife Financial LPGA Classic. “I love Texas and I always tell people how great it is. So I’m glad we get to showcase it. I’ve never played a pro event here. That means the world to me.”For Piller, who upsized to her bling-encrusted ball marker after a pro-am partner questioned if things truly were bigger in Texas when he spotted the original version, the opportunity to win in front of family and friends represents “a dream come true.”That opportunity used to be a regular occurrence for Kathy Whitworth, an LPGA Hall of Famer who hosts a high-profile girls invitational event each year at Mira Vista Country Club in Fort Worth. Whitworth, a Monahans native, collected many of her tour-record 88 triumphs in the Lone Star State but wondered in recent years if the circuit — which will play 13 of this year’s 29 events in countries other than the U.S. — would ever make it back to D-FW.“This was a really big surprise. I’m thrilled that it’s back,” said Whitworth, 73, a member of Trophy Club Country Club. “For a native Texan, it adds something to win here in front of your home crowd, your family and friends, in your native state. Absolutely.”Based on recent history, most Texans in this week’s field can only take Whitworth at her word about that. But by Sunday, one of them could become the first golfer in 22 years to win an LPGA tournament in DFW.
Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @Jimmy_Burch