Swiss amateur Albane Valenzuela prepares to realize Olympic dream

Swiss amateur Albane Valenzuela prepares to realize Olympic dream

LPGA Tour

Swiss amateur Albane Valenzuela prepares to realize Olympic dream

SAN MARTIN, Calif. – Albane Valenzuela can’t wait to meet tennis great Roger Federer in Rio de Janeiro. The Swiss amateur qualified for the Olympics after making the cut at the 71st U.S. Women’s Open, quite the feat for an 18-year-old who first popped onto the rankings in April.

“I want to be there from the beginning to the end,” Valenzuela said of attending the opening and closing ceremonies for the Aug. 5-21 games.

Valenzuela’s Olympic dream was birthed after her father, Alberto, had a conversation with friend Paul McGinley, the former Ryder Cup captain, who told him that the Olympics might be possible after she tied for low-amateur honors at the ANA Inspiration. So Alberto, a Swiss banker, set out to help Valenzuela earn invitations into Ladies European Tour events.

“We pulled every string that you could imagine,” he said. It wasn’t easy, but Valenzuela landed a start at the LET stop in Morocco in May and tied for fifth. In June, she competed on an invite in the Czech Republic and tied for fourth.

“Every tournament I was like, That putt can make a difference,” Valenzuela said.

A weekend tee time at CordeValle earned the incoming Stanford freshman one of 60 spots to the Olympic Games in Brazil. She’s one of three amateurs, joining Duke junior Leona Maguire of Ireland and USC senior Tiffany Chan of Hong Kong.

Born in New York, Valenzuela moved to Mexico City at a young age and took up golf at age 3. Alberto, a Mexican, met his French wife, Diane, at an exhibition match at Evian Golf Club in 1991. Diane, a 10-handicap, was working in marketing for Evian, and Alberto was there competing as an elite amateur. Alberto played No. 1 on UCLA’s golf team but went on to pursue his master’s and doctorate rather than a PGA Tour card.

In 2003, the family moved from Mexico to Geneva. One week after Albane, then 14, became a Swiss citizen, she competed for Switzerland at the European Championship. Albane, who speaks four languages fluently, might have to think for a minute when asked where she’s from.

“If she’s in Mexico, she will feel Mexican,” her mother said. “If she’s in Paris, she will feel a bit French. When she’s in the States, she loves being American, and she likes to represent Switzerland when she’s playing.

“She’s a part of the world, you know.”

After Rio, Valenzuela will compete in her third major of 2016, the Evian Championship, which extended a sponsor invitation. From there, she will fly to Stanford for the start of her freshman year.

“If someone would’ve told me at the beginning of the year that I’d be part of the Olympics,” Valenzuela said. “I probably would’ve just laughed.”

A Federer selfie awaits.

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