RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – Albane Valenzuela put together one of the finest rounds by an amateur in ANA history, a dazzling 5-under 67 to sit one shot off the lead after the first round. This marks the sixth major start for the Stanford sophomore, who represented Switzerland in the 2016 Olympics. Michelle Wie (2003) and Caroline Keggi (1988) hold the 18-hole record here for amateurs at 6-under 66.
Valenzuela wanted so badly to get back into this event after a bike accident involving a car on Stanford’s campus left her badly injured shortly before last year’s ANA Inspiration. She suffered a concussion, broke four teeth, received stitches on her nose, busted up her hand and had a partial tear in her patella. After making the cut here in 2016, she was forced to withdraw last year.
“I have no words,” said Valenzuela of getting a third invitation.
Her clubs certainly had something to say. Valenzuela, 20, poured in seven birdies on the Dinah Shore Tournament Course, taking only 29 putts. She hit 10 fairways and 14 greens and credited Stanford coach Anne Walker for helping her off the tee. The 5-foot-9 Valenzuela had gained muscle but become one of the shortest hitters on the Cardinal team. Walker took the Callaway Epic out of her own bag and gave it to Valenzuela, who won’t likely be giving it back.
Those who followed last year’s U.S. Women’s Amateur in San Diego will see a familiar face on Valenzuela’s bag. Younger brother Alexis, 16, was by her side for runner-up finishes at both the European Amateur and U.S. Women’s Amateur.
“I think what we did today was real special,” said Alexis, who dreams of playing in a major himself one day.
At last year’s U.S. Women’s Amateur, Alexis talked publicly for the first time about his battle with autism, sharing with Golfweek the journey he took from being a nonverbal child to a teenager who speaks three languages. It’s a remarkable story, and as television picked up the story and positive feedback poured in, Alexis began to dream of ways he could help more people.
It wasn’t long before he’d hatched the idea of Alexis for Autism or “A for A.” On June 27, Alexis will host an event at the family’s home club, Golf Club Geneve, to raise money to support a research project focused on early intervention from the Geneva University and supported by the Fondation Pôle Autisme. Dr. Marie Schaer uses MRI and eye-tracking to measure cerebral development in young children to better understand how early behavorial intervention can help them progress.
The sponsor page on Alexis’ website is who’s who list of supporters. His auction items include a stay-and-play pro-am experience at the 2018 Evian Championship and a 2018 Ryder Cup bag signed by both captains and split down the middle with the colors of both teams.
Amazingly, Alexis has already raised $40,000 in donations. He proudly whipped out a business card from his sister’s bag after the round.
These two are going places.