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Albane Valenzuela: the amateur golfer who turned down Augusta | Ewan Murray - Tee Us Up Albane Valenzuela: the amateur golfer who turned down Augusta | Ewan Murray - Tee Us Up

Albane Valenzuela: the amateur golfer who turned down Augusta | Ewan Murray

The 21 -year-old will compete at the ANA Inspiration, the first womens major of the season, despite temptation of Augusta

The green marketing machine has whirred into action early this year. The Masters can wait; Saturday will see the closing round of the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur take to the hallowed turf in Georgia. This is, according to those who will preside over it,” a historic event that promises to shine a spotlight on women’s golf and help inspire a new generation of players “.

Depending on your outlook there is a suit of unfortunate timing or Augusta National demonstrating- not for the first time- that the greater good is not really its concern.

As an epic fuss is constructed over an international field of 72- cut to 30 by the time the event switchings from the Champions Retreat to the Masters course- a women’s major will be taking place from Thursday until Sunday at Mission Hills in California. The ANA Inspiration, the first major of the golfing year, has unquestionably been overshadowed by Augusta’s latest attempted demonstration of diversity.

The ANA had already been affected by the rising frenzy attached to the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship, where excited kids and giddy parents take to Augusta National, live on television, on the Sunday preceding Masters week.

Needless to say, the LPGA Tour, which runs the ANA Inspiration, is privately lukewarm- to put it mildly- about the whole business. This has also placed some challengers in a difficult position.

The ANA landed a coup by sealing amateur participation from Paphangkorn Tavatanakit, the world No 2, Freda Kinhult, who is fourth, and Albane Valenzuela, currently No 5. Jennifer Kupcho, the top ranked amateur in the world, will play at Augusta.

Valenzuela’s story may be the most interesting, and she tells it impressively. Born in the US, she spent toddler time in Mexico before the Valenzuela family relocated to Geneva for 15 years.

She is now in the penultimate year of a political science and communication degree at Stanford, the California university which counts Tiger Woods and Michelle Wie among its golfing alumni.

The 21 -year-old Valenzuela harbours no ailment whatsoever towards Augusta, which she believes is offering an “unbelievable” opportunity to fellow amateurs this week. It was, she admits, a “tricky” decision to spurn the advances of the Green Coat when accepting an invite for an ANA return.

” It’s a special major to me ,” she says.” I got the opportunity to play in 2016 for the first time and attained the cut. When I did that, my father pointed out I might have a shot at the Olympics because of the points situation.

” I got invites to tournaments, made a top-five, had other good performances, played in a US Open and was able to compete in the Olympics so I have always been so grateful for that original possibility. It was a turning point in my career .”

Augusta
Augusta National will host the inaugural Women’s Amateur on Saturday. Photo: Jamie Squire/ Getty Images

Two years ago, Valenzuela received the bellow from the ANA merely for a bike collision the day before she was due to leave for the tournament meaning she had to withdraw. Her major place was offered again for 2018, when she finished 59 th, and it was retained this time round.

” I don’t think many amateurs have had this number of opportunities from the ANA ,” she adds.” I couldn’t say no, they have always been so supportive. It’s the first major of the year and I love such courses. It’s a very significant thing that’s happening at Augusta so I’m sad to miss that but I’m very excited to be going back to the ANA. I don’t think there was a’ incorrect’ selection, that’s just my perspective. I couldn’t say no to ANA .”

Valenzuela’s plan A is to turn professional immediately upon completion of university in 2020.” Now that I have this backup of a Stanford degree, I believe I’ll go out there a little more freely ,” she says.

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A bigger scene relates to an Olympic return, having represented Switzerland in Rio. The men’s section of golf’s return to the Games was hit by a raft of withdrawals; the women’s part, though, seemed wholly positive.

” I think the guys stimulated one of the biggest mistakes of their lives ,” Valenzuela says.” I’ve never had so much fun. You are surrounded by the best athletes in the world, it is not just about golf. It’s the highest reference for sport. It entailed the world to me to be walking in that stadium, right behind the flag bearer .”

Further Olympic recognition seems inevitable. For now, a major championship is all the better for Valenzuela’s reciprocal appreciation.

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