RANCHO MIRAGE, California – Albane Valenzuela could have won on Wednesday in the inaugural Augusta National Women & # 39; s Amateur, where the participants who survive the cut will play the last 18 holes on the legendary course where men will follow participate in the Masters for a week.
Valenzuela, a junior at Stanford and the fifth largest amateur of women in the world, took a serious part in the invitation of the Augusta National Golf Club board until she received what she considered a better offer for this week: her third start in the ANA Inspiration, the first female lead player of the year.
"Get the chance to get started and play the same course as the world number 1," she said Tuesday, referring to Sung Hyun Park in South Korea, "I think this is the best experience that you can get. "
Augusta National officials have proclaimed their amateur invitation as a large podium for women's golf. That overlooks the major that was originally known as the Dinah Shore, which has fascinated young golfers since 1972. The tournament has cultivated indelible traditions such as the jump of the winner in Poppie & # 39; s Pound and has consistently created considerable fame for top amateurs such as Valenzuela, who used her 2016 debut here as a springboard to the Rio Olympics.
Augusta National only admitted its first female members in 2012. And while it has since opened its way to boys and girls through the Drive, Chip and Putt competition and to amateur women, these inclusive gestures have ignored – and no matter how unintentionally – the LPGA, one of the longest running professional sports organizations for women. undermined.
The Drive, Chip and Putt competition, which was held the Sunday before the Masters, is shifted television and other media coverage from the final round of the ANA Inspiration. And with the arrival of the Augusta National Women & # 39; s Amateur, the spotlight on the best female players in the world has become more diffuse.
"I think it comes from a very positive place in Augusta – they want to do the right thing," Valenzuela said. "It is probably not my place to say, but it would have been great if both could work together to have them take place in different weeks because you don't want to put the LPGA in the spotlight"
ANA Inspiration is important because the magnetic moments that Valenzuela attracted to the sport as a child did not relate to Augusta National, which for so much of its history has been so far from women's jobs that it might as well have been on Mars
"Since I was a little girl, I've seen all the girls jump into the pond," said Valenzuela, adding, "These are the Masters for ladies."
On Wednesday, Jennifer Kupcho, a senior from Wake Forest and the best amateur of the women, hit the opening stage of the new event at the Champions Retreat resort in Evans, Georgia, the site of the first two laps. Only the final round is played at Augusta National.
Throughout Wednesday, Valenzuela dug her swing on the Mission Hills practice course. Stacy Lewis, the 2011 ANA Inspiration champion, said she intended to warmly welcome Valenzuela and the four other amateurs in the field: Patty Tavatanakit, Frida Kinhult, Rachel Heck and Xin Kou, also known as Cindy.
"I am really proud of them," said Lewis, the former women's world number 1 who recently returned to the competition after the birth of her first child, a daughter, in October. "If you want to play golf professionally, you have to play in majors and see where your game is piling up and have the experience to play for that big crowd."
Valenzuela has grown into the weekend in each of its previous starts in this event. If she misses the cut this week, she won't be quiet this weekend. Her consolation prize will come to her Stanford teammates on Sunday afternoon during the Silverado Showdown, a collegiate women's event in Napa.
Stanford is in fourth place in the group of ladies' racers and plays with other top teams for seed positions at the next month's NCAA championship. Another Stanford star, Andrea Lee, chose Georgia this week.
Anne Walker, coach of Valenzuela at Stanford, said in a telephone interview that she welcomed Augusta National's move to the ladies game, and described it as "another great opportunity that opens."
But in his exuberance to grow the game, Augusta National is more than the LPGA planning. "There is very little discussion about the timing of it when it comes to college golf," Walker said.
She pointed out that Texas, which ranks second behind the University of Southern California, competed in the Bruzzy Challenge this week in Texas without three of its top players: Emilee Hoffman, Agathe Laisne and Kaitlyn Papp, who are in Augusta. The Longhorns finished seventh, their lowest end of the season in three places.
Walker ultimately described the planning conflicts as "a major problem to have."
But they are a problem, nonetheless
When the Augusta National President, Fred Ridley, announced the new event last year, he said: "We think that to be a week where the future greats of the game and the current greats of the ladies' game are all competing on a big stage, it's just very exciting. "
Referring to LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan, who had not been consulted before it Augusta tournament was planned, Ridley added, "I think he also understands that over time it will be a victory for the LPGA"
Lewis said she would like to see the Augusta event played at a different time in the year.
Referring to the amateurs, she added: "Maybe they could get a full tournament at Augusta National. Here you get a few practice rounds and a three-round game."
Or better yet, the Augusta National members could find a way to welcome the 8-year-old girls and 18-year-old amateurs after they have become the best female players in the world.
It is a win-win situation for golf when the best women mix with the best men, because Brittany Lincicome, a two-time ANA Inspiration champion, was recently
Lincicome brought two days at the flagship of the PGA Tour in Florida, and she was shocked when players like Sergio Garcia and Rory McIlroy saw her behind the rope lines and came to ask him if she wanted to pose for selfies with them.
Lincicome, 33, has been slow to acknowledge that her start last year in a PGA Tour event in Kentucky declined both of her victories here.
"I had no idea they knew who I was," she said.
As the LPGA must move the date of the first major to Augusta National, here is an idea how Augusta's national members could make the change tasty. They could hand out an invitation to the reigning big winners of the ladies to compete alongside the men in the par-3 competition of the Masters. That would make more sense than a flashy 18-hole finish for an amateur event.