Augusta National Women’s Amateur or LPGA major? A young pro revisits her decision

Albane Valenzuela

Albane Valenzuela is teeing it up in her fourth ANA Inspiration this week.

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Albane Valenzuela’s resume makes you look twice.

Born in New York, educated in Switzerland (where she gained her citizenship as a teenager) and now residing in the Bahamas, Valenzuela, 23, played golf at Stanford, speaks four languages and represented Switzerland at the 2016 Rio Olympics. She was a two-time finalist at the U.S. Women’s Amateur and breezed through the LPGA’s grueling Q-Series in 2019, finishing seven under par through eight rounds to end up T6 overall, easily securing her Tour card for 2020.

Still, even after all that she’s accomplished, there’s one checkmark shared by many of Valenzuela’s peers that is missing from Valenzuela’s own sparkling CV: a competitive round at Augusta National.

As one of the world’s top-ranked amateurs, Valenzuela was among the lucky few invited to play in the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur in 2019. She was also one of the very few to turn down the invitation. That’s because Valenzuela had already accepted an invitation to play in the ANA Inspiration, the LPGA’s first major of the year, which is the same week as the ANWA, in late March/early April.

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Play a potential once-in-a-lifetime tournament at Augusta National, or gain valuable experience by competing in a major championship as an amateur? Such are the dilemmas facing today’s elite young players. But now that Valenzuela has made it to the Big Show in women’s golf, does she have any regrets about passing on a chance to play Augusta?

“Absolutely no regrets,” Valenzuela said the other day on a Zoom call. “I think if I made the decision at the time, it’s because I thought it was the right one. And ANA has always played such a special role in my career. It’s probably the reason I even participated in the Olympics in 2016, having that opportunity as an amateur to compete in the ANA.

“And that really, I think, sparked my amateur career, having that opportunity to play major tournaments. And obviously Covid kind of changed the whole situation, but at the time of my decision, playing in the ANA was to get some more points in the world ranking and hopefully get more chances of qualifying for Tokyo. So that was a big part of my decision.

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“I think those are the kind of decisions that are the good ones and those are amazing problems to have. I was very lucky and fortunate to be in that position. Augusta was definitely an enormous success. I really enjoyed watching it and cheering for my friends who were competing there. It’s amazing what they have done for women’s golf.”

This week, Valenzuela is playing her fourth ANA Inspiration, but her first as a professional. She recently posted her best finish to date as a pro: a solo fifth-place finish at the LPGA Drive On Championship.

“I’m very excited and very happy with my results,” Valenzuela said. “I think I knew I had the game to compete on tour, but it’s one thing to believe in yourself and it’s one thing to do it after. So I just think it gives me a lot of confidence that I can belong on this tour, I can perform. I just have to keep doing what I’m doing. There will be good weeks, there will be bad weeks, but at least I can rely on this experience and this performance in the future when I’ll need it.”

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Jessica Marksbury
Golf.com

As a four-year member of Columbia’s inaugural class of female varsity golfers, Jessica can out-birdie everyone on the masthead. She can out-hustle them in the office, too, where she’s primarily responsible for producing both print and online features, and overseeing major special projects, such as GOLF’s inaugural Style Is­sue, which debuted in February 2018. Her origi­nal interview series, “A Round With,” debuted in November of 2015, and appeared in both in the magazine and in video form on GOLF.com.