U.S. WOMEN'S AMATEUR
Global Experiences Help Valenzuela's March to Semis
August 12, 2017 | Chula Vista, Calif.
By Bill Fields
Albane Valenzuela is fluent in three languages, but she also knows one important golf truism that translates anywhere: Don’t let a bad day follow you around.
Valenzuela experienced a tough conclusion to the European Ladies’ Amateur on July 29, closing with a 76 to squander a seven-stroke lead and lose by one stroke to Agathe Laisne. It was the type of stumble that could stick to a young player, but Valenzuela has moved on quickly.
The 19-year-old from Switzerland, who will be a sophomore at Stanford University, earned a berth in the U.S. Women’s Amateur semifinals with a 4-and-3 quarterfinal victory over rising University of Southern California junior Robynn Ree on Friday at San Diego Country Club. Valenzuela will square off against UCLA’s Lilia Kha-Tu Vu in another match of Pacific-12 Conference rivals on Saturday at 8 a.m. PDT.
“I think maybe I put too much pressure on myself,” Valenzuela said of losing the European championship. “I had a bad round of golf. Bad rounds happen. But I still had a very good tournament. If someone told me before you'd be runner-up, I'd sign. You'd take that kind of performance. You obviously want to win, but I know I'm really close to winning a big one, so that also gives me confidence coming into this week.”
Valenzuela’s father, Alberto, who was on the UCLA men’s golf team in the 1980s before pursuing a career in banking, said the defeat was a valuable lesson for his daughter.
“I think her future will be better than having won the tournament,” he said. “A win is great, but having a bad experience will teach her a lot. I’m sure if she has one more chance of being seven ahead, she will manage it differently. You just have to keep moving forward. You’ve just got to play hard, play fearlessly and do your best.”
With her 15-year-old brother, Alexis – a budding golfer himself – as her caddie, Valenzuela is doing that this week.
Valenzuela, the championship’s top-ranked amateur according to the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking™ (No. 3), lost the first hole to Ree’s birdie, but she wasn’t trailing long. She squared the match on the second hole and holed a birdie putt from 60 feet on the third to go 1 up.
“I thought maybe it was going to lip out because it was going really fast,” Alexis said. “Then I saw it going straight in the hole. I went, ‘That’s in.’ That was just an amazing putt. I think Robynn Ree, when she saw that putt, she knew that Albane would play well today.”
In fact, Valenzuela has been playing well for more than a year, when she battled hard to be eligible to represent Switzerland in the 2016 Summer Olympics. Making the 36-hole cut in the 2016 ANA Inspiration and U.S. Women’s Open at CordeValle certainly raised her profile.
Valenzuela has an interesting family background – her father was born in Mexico, her mother, Diane, is from France, and she was born in New York, but wound up in Switzerland when the family relocated there 14 years ago. She applied and received Swiss citizenship when she was 14.
By virtue of her place in the Rolex Women’s Rankings, which was used to determine the 60-player Olympic field, Valenzuela managed to qualify. One of only three amateurs – Duke All-American Leona Maguire (Republic of Ireland) and former USC standout Tiffany Chan (Hong Kong China) were the other two – and the youngest player in the field, Valenzuela tied for 21st. .
“Definitely when you play such big events, it helps you with pressure and playing under very, very difficult conditions,” Valenzuela said. “Playing in majors before also helped me getting ready for the Olympics. But it just showed me that I have to stay very patient, very relaxed. I'm grateful to be in that kind of position still at 18, 19. It's just having fun, and it definitely helped my golf.”
But the game is just a facet of Valenzuela’s life. In contrast to many talented young women who turn pro while in their teens, she is in no rush.
“We are extremely grateful to the U.S. university system and the fact that she is playing at Stanford,” said Alberto, who didn’t turn professional despite being one of UCLA’s top players. “She is loving it there. She’s taking a different approach than a lot of young women. She’s going to go through college and will get a great education – get a degree, then life will tell if she’s good for the women’s tour. If she likes that life and is ready to do it, she will. Sometimes as a father, I see all these young girls who want to turn pro, they want to rush it. There are a few exceptions out there who are outstanding, but there are more who don’t make it than make it.”
For now, Valenzuela will go for a Saturday morning walk with her younger brother, who is good at reading greens. During Friday’s quarterfinals, he lightened the mood by asking her favorite flavor of ice cream.
“He makes me laugh and just makes me very relaxed,” Valenzuela said. “And he’s very on top of everything.”
Much like his big sister.
Bill Fields is a Connecticut-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA websites.