U.S. WOMEN'S AMATEUR
Valenzuela, Schubert to Square Off in Championship Match
August 12, 2017 | Chula Vista, Calif.
By David Shefter, USGA
Albane Valenzuela, 19, of Switzerland, will face Sophia Schubert, 21, of Oak Ridge, Tenn., in Sunday’s 36-hole championship match of the 117th U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship being conducted at San Diego Country Club.
Valenzuela, a rising sophomore at Stanford University, defeated UCLA rising junior Lilia Kha-Tu Vu, 19, of Fountain Valley, Calif., 3 and 2, in Saturday’s first semifinal match. Schubert, a rising senior at the University of Texas, eliminated 13-year-old Chia Yen Wu, of Chinese Taipei, 2 up, in the second semifinal match.
Valenzuela would become the first player from Switzerland to win a USGA championship and the first Stanford golfer to hoist the Robert Cox Trophy since Joanne Pacillo in 1983. Anne Quast Sander, another Stanford graduate, won three titles (1958, 1961 and 1963).
“I’m really excited,” said Valenzuela, who has her brother Alexis serving as her caddie this week. “It was getting closer every day, and I’m finally there, so I’m really proud of myself and happy to be here. It was a tough match today at the beginning. I was 1 down for nine holes, but I just stayed very patient. I’m really happy with my attitude on the course, and I just kept fighting and never gave up.”
Schubert is looking to become the first Longhorn to claim the championship since Kelli Kuehne produced back-to-back titles in 1995 and 1996. A decade earlier, Michiko Hattori, of Japan, won the 1985 title while playing for the Longhorns.
Schubert also could break a nine-year skein of champions under the age of 20, with Amanda Blumenherst, then a 21-year-old Duke University standout, the last to achieve the feat in 2008. That was also the last time the final featured two current college players – Blumenherst defeated reigning NCAA champion Azahara Munoz of Arizona State University. With Schubert and Valenzuela both playing in their first U.S. Women’s Amateur, the winner will become the first to win in their debut since Kristen Gillman in 2014.
And the only other time San Diego Country Club hosted the U.S. Women’s Amateur (1993), a Tennessee golfer reached the final. Only this time, Schubert is hoping to do one better than Sarah LeBrun Ingram, who lost to University of Southern California All-American Jill McGill, 1 down.
“It means so much,” said Schubert of making the final. “Standing on the first tee this morning, seeing those trophies (U.S. Women’s Amateur and U.S. Women’s Open) out there and hearing that if I win today, I'll get to play in the [U.S. Women’s Open], that just means everything because that's what I've worked for my whole life.”
The U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship is open to female amateur golfers with a Handicap Index® not exceeding 5.4. It consists of 36 holes of stroke play followed by six rounds of match play to determine the champion. The championship match begins at 7 a.m. PDT Sunday.
Both finalists are exempt into the 2018 U.S. Women’s Open Championship at Shoal Creek in suburban Birmingham, Ala. The champion receives a 10-year U.S. Women’s Amateur exemption as well as a gold medal and custody of the Robert Cox Trophy for one year. The winner also typically receives exemptions into three other women’s professional major championships: the 2017 Evian Championship, the 2018 ANA Inspiration and the Ricoh Women’s British Open, provided she remains an amateur.
The runner-up receives a three-year U.S. Women’s Amateur exemption and a silver medal. Vu and Wu are exempt into the next two U.S. Women’s Amateurs and received bronze medals.
Tape-delayed coverage of the semifinals will be broadcast from 7-10 p.m. EDT on Fox Sports 1. The championship match will be broadcast on FS1 from 4-7 p.m., with extensive bonus coverage of the morning 18 round on usga.org from 12:30-2:30 p.m.
The matchup between the No. 3 (Valenzuela) and No. 5 (Vu) players in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking™ figured to be highly competitive. Vu registered four consecutive collegiate titles in the spring for the Bruins, including the Pacific-12 Conference individual crown, an event in which Valenzuela finished tied for 11th.
But Valenzuela, who made the cut in the 2016 ANA Inspiration and U.S. Women’s Open as well as tied for 21st in the Summer Olympics (one of three amateurs in the 60-player field) in Rio de Janeiro, was coming off a runner-up finish in the European Ladies Amateur two weeks ago, where she held the 54-hole lead by seven strokes only to falter with a final-round 76 to lose by one to France’s Agathe Laisne.
Vu, who was bothered by a sore back that she might have attributed to fatigue from a long week of golf, built an early 1-up lead thanks to a Valenzuela bogey on No. 5. In fact, neither golfer made a birdie until the par-5 eighth hole, where both holed putts inside 8 feet.
But Vu started to unravel on the second nine, making four consecutive bogeys that began with an 18-inch lip-out on No. 10 that squared the match. Valenzuela, who was born in New York but moved to Switzerland with her parents (her dad is Mexican and mother is French) 14 years ago, won No. 11 with a birdie and No. 12 with a par. She closed out the match by stuffing her wedge approach to 2 feet on No. 16 and converting the birdie.
“It was a grind for me,” said Vu. “Albane doesn't make any mistakes, and I did on the back nine. I got tired, and I couldn't keep it in the fairway. I couldn't keep it out. I let it go, basically, on those stretch of three holes.”
Added Valenzuela: “I’ve played quite a lot of tournaments under a lot of pressure, and I think I learned a lot from my mistakes. Sometimes I would approach those tournaments with kind of some fear, but now I realize fear doesn’t bring you anything. The best defense is attack, so that’s what I keep telling myself … let’s go for it, she’s going to come out at you, so just go, go and go.
“I guess that's kind of the attitude I’ve been having in match play now, and the good thing in Europe is we get to play a lot of match-play events, so I played the Vagliano [Trophy against Great Britain & Ireland] in June, won all my matches, and that really gave me confidence because before, when I played the Spanish International and the French International, the furthest I got was [the Round of] 32. So I would win in team events, but individually I was not winning that many matches, and I knew I had the game to win that kind of event. You know, it's great, and now I'm able to really pull out my game under pressure and just play well in match play.”
Schubert and Wu, who survived the longest match in USGA history in Friday’s 30-hole quarterfinal victory over Lauren Stephenson, struggled over the first 10 holes, with neither golfer making a birdie and Schubert squaring the match on No. 10 with a bogey.
“Today, [my] first nine, I think my muscles and my body felt tired, so my iron distance changed,” said Wu, who impressed this week with her indefatigable short game. “So, I couldn’t make a birdie.”
Then the fireworks began. Both stuffed their tee shots on the 154-yard 11th hole to within 4 feet for matching birdies. Then Schubert converted birdies from 33 and 18 feet, respectively, on Nos. 12 and 13 to grab a 2-up lead. Wu, who at 13 years, 4 months is the youngest semifinalist in championship history, answered with birdies on 14 (3 feet) and 15 (24 feet from fringe) to return the match to all square.
But Wu, who was unflappable in the marathon match against Stephenson, failed to get up and down from a greenside bunker on 16, while Schubert holed her short par putt to take a 1-up lead.
“She is a very, very strong player,” said Schubert. “I’m shocked she's only 13 years old. She plays like she's 25.”
Then on the challenging downhill, 402-yard 18th hole, Schubert stuffed her approach to 3 feet, and when Wu failed to hole out her long pitch for birdie, the hole and match was conceded, ending Wu’s bid to become the third No. 63 seed to win a USGA championship.
This week, Wu survived an 11-for-8 playoff to get into match play, rallied from 4 holes down to win her Round-of-32 match in 19 holes, defeated Gillman in the Round of 16, and had the epic 30-hole win on Friday.
“Pretty good experience,” said Wu of her week. “I like match play.”
Although Schubert is making her first Women’s Amateur appearance – and second USGA championship appearance (lost in Round of 64 at 2011 U.S. Girls’ Junior) – she has produced strong results in her last two years at Texas after transferring from Auburn University. This year, she won the Lady Buckeye and had six other top-10 finishes. As a sophomore, she was the co-runner-up in the Big 12 Championship and had four other top-10s.
Now, she’s a step away from the biggest prize of all in women’s amateur golf.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org