Daily Digest: Two Amateurs Have Rio on Their Minds July 5, 2016 | San Martin, Calif. By David Shefter and Ron Driscoll, USGA

Leona Maguire (right), seen here helping GB&I to a Curtis Cup victory in June, is likely going to represent Ireland in Rio next month. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

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Booking a trip to Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Summer Olympics was the furthest thing from Albane Valenzuela’s mind at the outset of the year. Then the 18-year-old amateur from Switzerland got an invitation to the ANA Inspiration in March, made the cut in the first women’s professional major championship of 2016 and shared low-amateur honors with 2015 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Hannah O’Sullivan, earning enough Rolex Women’s World Ranking points for her father to start thinking about a possible Olympic berth.

Alberto Valenzuela, who played at UCLA from 1982-86, proceeded to plant the seed in his daughter’s mind.

“He told me maybe you should get a [sponsor’s] invite for Morocco,” said Albane of the Lalla Mayern Cup, a Ladies European Tour event scheduled for early May. “And if you play well there, you might get a chance [to make the Olympics].”

The top 60 in the Olympic Rankings as of July 11 qualify for the Games. Each country is limited to a maximum of four golfers, provided all are inside the top 15 of the Rolex Women’s Rankings. Otherwise, a country can send a maximum of two, with host Brazil guaranteed at least one spot.

After Valenzuela tied for fifth in Morocco and shared fourth in last month’s Tipsport Golf Masters, another LET event held in the Czech Republic, she jumped inside the top 60 and is currently No. 53. She is one of three amateurs who currently qualify and the top Swiss golfer, one spot ahead of Fabienne In-Albon, who is not in this week’s U.S. Women’s Open. The Olympic field becomes official on Monday, and Valenzuela appears to be a lock to qualify.

“It would be such an honor to play for Switzerland and be in the Olympic Village,” said Valenzuela, one of two amateurs in this week’s U.S. Women’s Open at CordeValle likely headed to Rio. Leona Maguire, the 2015 Mark H. McCormack Medal winner from the Republic of Ireland, is No. 49 in the Olympic Rankings. “It would be really exciting.”

Maguire, 21, a member of last month’s victorious Great Britain and Ireland Curtis Cup Team and a junior at Duke University, is currently the lone Irish representative for the Olympics. Friend and 2012 GB&I Curtis Cup teammate Stephanie Meadow has fallen out of the top 60, leaving Maguire as Ireland’s hope for an Olympic women’s golf medal. Meadow is a resident of Northern Ireland, but like countryman Rory McIlroy, who has since dropped out, had declared her intention to play for the republic.

“Hopefully after a good week I’ll be all set,” said Maguire, No. 2 in the latest Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking™. “The Olympics would be an amazing opportunity. I’ve wanted to play in the Olympics for a long time. It would be an unbelievable experience.”

It’s an opportunity that is about to become reality.

Wie Looking to Rebound This Week

It has been two years since Michelle Wie captured the Women’s Open at Pinehurst No. 2, and a year since she gritted out an 11th-place showing at Lancaster (Pa.) Country Club in her title defense. Her excitement at competing in her 13th Women’s Open is obvious.

“I love the U.S. Open – it’s my favorite tournament of the year,” said Wie, 26. “Driving in here seeing the picture of me holding the trophy, that was pretty awesome and hopefully I can build on that confidence.”

Wie’s 2016 season has been, in her own words, a struggle – it includes eight missed cuts and a top finish of a tie for 25th, back in January. But after battling numerous injuries over the past two years, she reported on Tuesday that she is pain-free this week, and she is ever hopeful.

“I’ve been tinkering so much to try to figure out how I can play without pain,” said Wie. “I still have half the year left. It’s very early in July and I’m slowly building my confidence back. I’m still having fun out there. That’s the most important thing… I know I’m going to turn it around.”

Field Complete With Addition of Anderson

Amy Anderson, 23, of Oxbow, N.D., the 2009 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion, was added to the field on Tuesday as the 156th and last player in, barring any withdrawals over the next two days.

Anderson, the first alternate from the Becker, Minn., qualifying site, currently plays on the LPGA Tour. A member of the 2012 USA Curtis Cup Team, Anderson is competing in her second U.S. Women’s Open, having finished 63rd in 2011.

On Monday, two players entered the top 50 of the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings to become fully exempt. Su Oh, 20, of Australia, and Ayaka Watanabe, 22, of Japan, entered the top 50 at No. 39 and No. 46, respectively, to earn exemptions. Both players are making their second Women’s Open start.

Other additions to the field on Monday included Chih-Min Chien, 19, of Chinese Taipei; Cydney Clanton, 26, of Rockwell, N.C.; and Caroline Inglis, 22, of Eugene, Ore.

Chien was the first alternate out of the Fort Worth, Texas, site and a rising sophomore at Oklahoma State University. Clanton, a member of the LPGA Tour who played on the victorious 2010 USA Curtis Cup Team, was the first alternate from the Longmeadow, Mass., qualifying site. Inglis, who turned professional last week, was the first alternate from the DuPont, Wash., qualifying site.

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org. Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at rdriscoll@usga.org

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