Alexis Valenzuela, Albane Valenzuela unhappy campers
Albane Valenzuela, the #3 player in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking, was bidding to become the first USGA champion from Switzerland, but got defeated unexpectedly by Sophia Schubert, the rising University of Texas senior 6&5 in Sunday’s 36-hole final stage of the championship in Chula Vista (California).
Schubert, competing in her first U.S. Women’s Amateur and second USGA championship, got possession of the Robert Cox Trophy for one year, a gold medal and likely invites to three women’s professional majors: the 2017 Evian Championship, the 2018 ANA Inspiration and Ricoh Women’s British Open. Both finalists are exempt into the 2018 U.S. Women’s Open at Shoal Creek (Alabama). “It definitely gives me a lot of confidence. I’ve always wanted to go pro, but this really did it for me. Now I’m going to remain an amateur just to play in these events that I’m exempt in, and I think that’ll be an incredible experience for me”.
Coming into the week, Schubert’s name was not on the tip of anyone’s tongue, even though she was No. 66 in the WAGR. Her only previous USGA experience was a Round-of-64 defeat in the 2011 U.S. Girls’ Junior. But since transferring to Texas, Schubert’s game has steadily improved. She was the co-runner-up in the 2016 Big 12 Championship, and this past season she claimed the Lady Buckeye, one of seven top-10 finishes.
This week, Schubert was grouped in stroke play with Stanford rising senior Shannon Aubert, who was the medalist with a 9-under total of 135. Reaching the final stage, she then beat Albane Valenzuela, Stanford’s most high-profile player who competed in last summer’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro (T-21) and shared low-amateur honors in the ANA Inspiration. Valenzuela also made the cut in the U.S. Women’s Open, one item on an impressive resume that shows a wealth of prestigious amateur competitions, including the Vagliano Trophy (Europe vs. Great Britain and Ireland) and the Junior Solheim Cup (Europe vs. USA).
Schubert seemed calm and poised from the opening tee shot, although with some early jitters. She was conceded birdies at holes 1 and 5 and that’s definitely hurt Albane’s confidence. The lead swelled to 4 up by the lunch break, thanks to a 10-foot birdie on 10 and a winning par on 11. Back on the course after lunch, it appeared Valenzuela, the runner-up in the European Ladies’ Amateur two weeks ago who led by seven strokes in the final round, might make an afternoon charge when her wedge approach to the 19th hole stopped two feet from the flagstick for a birdie. Just an illusion, this birdie was to be her only one of the entire match. “I played some great golf. It didn’t go my way today, but other than that, I played steady golf, had a lot of [birdie] putts,” said Valenzuela. “I hit some great putts and great drives. A lot of good things to take out of the championship. I mean, it’s great to win five matches and get that far for my first time, so I’m really excited.”
Schubert regained her 4-up lead on the 22nd hole by stuffing her approach to 3 feet. Valenzuela did have chances to trim the deficit on the 25 and 26, but couldn’t get a putt to drop. Her 10-foot birdie attempt on the par-5 26th hole hung on the right lip. Then Schubert continued to hit fairways and greens. Her 25-foot birdie from the fringe on the par-3 29th hole virtually sealed Valenzuela’s fate and the match ended two holes later with Schubert converting a short par putt.
These two guys will possibly get together soon again as they are to play The Evian in September. It’s the fifth major of the season contested after the Solheim Cup. And the Korean girls so successful at so many events again this season, majors included, will be all over the place. It will be interesting to compare their skills. VZ