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GOLF INSIDER: Stanford seeking multiple wins as '08 tour begins

During a breakthrough 2007 season, Angela Stanford became a weekly fixture on leader boards at LPGA Tour events.

Stanford, a Saginaw resident and former TCU golfer, cracked the top 10 in half of the 24 tournaments she entered. She posted a career-high in earnings ($713,880) and celebrated at the White House with fellow members of the victorious U.S. Solheim Cup team as guests of President Bush.

But the biggest eye-opener, the one that tells Stanford she can expect even better things in 2008, occurred during her final round at the season-ending ADT Championship. A botched putt on the first hole led to an airborne putter, which resulted in a bent shaft and a useless club.

Stanford, 30, spent the final 17 holes of the season putting with a sand wedge. And she didn’t notice any dropoff.

“That made me start thinking outside the box about my putting,” said Stanford, who will carry some fresh thoughts and a new blade putter into Thursday’s opening round of the SBS Open at Turtle Bay, the first stop on the 2008 LPGA Tour. “I hit it inside 15 feet seven times (for birdie chances), and not once did I say to myself, ‘I wish I had my putter.’ That showed me I still have the ability to get it in the hole, regardless of what I’ve got in my hand. It did a world of good for my confidence. It made me think that, maybe, I was caught up in thinking about too many things when I was trying to putt.”

A stellar-ball striker, Stanford ranked third among LPGA competitors in greens in regulation last season (69.5 pct). But she ranked 30th in putting and did not finish higher than third in any event, despite her 12 top-10 finishes. To put that in proper perspective, Stanford logged only 13 top-10 efforts — combined — in her first six years on tour.

The bottom line: Stanford’s decision to overhaul her swing in November 2005 and change her primary ball flight from a draw to a fade has been a rousing success. It’s made her one of top American players on tour. But to get to the next level, the ultimate level, she must bury more crunch-time putts.

Stanford knows. That’s why she’s changed putters, adopted a less-mechanical approach on the greens and raised her expectations for the 2008 season. In past years, Stanford always set a goal of winning a tournament. Not this year.

Instead, she wants to finish among the top 20 putters on the LPGA Tour. By doing that, Stanford — whose lone tour triumph came at the 2003 ShopRite LPGA Classic — envisions multiple victories this season.

“I don’t know the number, but it’s going to be more than one,” Stanford said of her 2008 season goal. “In the past, I’ve always said I wanted a tournament. I think that got in my way … I’d be in position to win and think, ‘This is your season goal here.’ If I set a goal of winning three tournaments, I’ll be thinking, ‘If you’re going to win three, you’d better get this first one because you still have two more to go.’ I think that can help me.”

It should. Another benefit for Stanford should be confidence gained by posting a 2-0-1 record in matches at the 2007 Solheim Cup, in which the U.S. team defeated Europe, 16-12. During Sunday’s pressure-packed singles matches, Stanford knocked off Trish Johnson, 3 and 2.

The triumph earned Stanford a chance to meet Bush, who frequently referred to her as “my fellow Texan” during the golfers’ celebratory session in the Oval Office. The two-day White House visit in November overlapped Stanford’s 30th birthday, which led instructor Mike Wright, the head golf professional at Shady Oaks Country Club, to challenge her with a history lesson.

Wright urged Stanford to check out the resume of Fort Worth golf legend Ben Hogan and see how he fared, before and after his 30th birthday. Short version: Hogan, who finished with 64 career victories on the PGA Tour, won 49 tournaments — including all nine of his major championships — after his 30th birthday.

Stanford, who does the brunt of her practicing at Shady Oaks, got the message.

“Most late bloomers play their best golf in their 30s,” Stanford said. “Look at Mr. Hogan. It’s nice to know that one of the greatest to ever earn a living playing this game didn’t get his career fired up until later in his 30s … Hearing that made me feel good. It gave me a huge sigh of relief.”

Why?

“I’m not someone that grew up on the fast track at the David Leadbetter Academy [which produces many teen phenoms]. I went to college. I’ve worked my way up the ladder,” Stanford said. “I’m one of those late bloomers. I really believe my best years are ahead of me.”

Starting with 2008.

By the numbers

4: Golfers who have already crossed the $1 million earnings mark on the 2008 PGA Tour, as of Feb. 13.

9: Consecutive seasons with at least one rookie winner on the PGA Tour, as well as 19 of the last 20. The only exception was 1998, when no rookie won a tour event.

138: Competitors for this week’s SBS Open at Turtle Bay, the season opener on the 2008 LPGA Tour.

QUOTE BOARD

“I let this one slip away. I didn’t think I was going to lose … There’s no excuse for that.”

— Vijay Singh, after squandering a three-stroke lead with three consecutive back-nine bogeys before losing to journeyman Steve Lowery in Sunday’s playoff at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

Fort Worth area pros

How exempt players with Fort Worth area connections (residents or golfers from Fort Worth area high schools or colleges) are faring on the PGA, Champions, LPGA, Nationwide and Duramed Futures tours this season. Listed is the official earnings and where it ranks on the money list:

PGA TOUR

Rory Sabbatini — $992,400 (5).

Ben Crane — $339,355 (27).

Chad Campbell — $255,777 (42).

Tag Ridings — $161,232 (66).

Todd Hamilton — $46,800 (113).

Stephen Leaney — $38,100 (129).

J.J. Henry — $25,286 (145).

Mark Brooks — $9,996 (176).

LPGA TOUR

Season opens this week.

CHAMPIONS TOUR

No earnings yet.

NATIONWIDE TOUR

Greg Chalmers _ $40,550 (7).

J.J. Killeen _ $7,002 (42).

Kelly Grunewald _ $6,988 (43).

D.J. Brigman _ $1,984 (82).

DURAMED FUTURES TOUR

Season opens in March.

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