“I’m a very global person. I think I’m a global citizen.”
If anyone embodies the spirit of international competition, it has to be Switerzland’s Albane Valenzuela. The 23-year-old, who was born in the United States before moving to Mexico City as a toddler and then later Geneva, has lived life among the world. Valenzuela, who speaks four languages, became an official Swiss citizen at 14 and has played under the white cross ever since.
The 2020/21 LPGA Tour rookie is now competing in her second Olympic Games, after finishing T21 as one of three amateurs in the field in 2016. Fast forward five years to Kasumigaeski Country Club and Valenzuela battled brutal temperatures and heat advisories to an even-par first round to sit in a tie for 23rd heading into the second day. Though it may not have been the round she anticipated, returning to the Olympics has been an opportunity unlike any other – and she’s feeling it from across the sea as well.
“I always said that the Olympics was the best experience I've had as a golfer. I think it doesn't get better than that,” said Valenzuela, who said she felt “goosebumps” when teeing off the first hole on Wednesday in Japan. “I think the Olympics is honestly the best thing that could have happened for golf. It's going to give so much more exposure. I see my friends back home, they don't understand anything about golf, but they understand I'm an Olympian and they think that's the coolest thing. So, I think it's awesome and I'm really, really happy to be here.”
The scorecard may show three birdies and three bogeys after day one, but it’s more about the bigger picture of participating in the Games and the pride Valenzuela has for her nation.
“You’re playing not just for yourself but for your country. You have people rooting for you. I mean, even when I was watching the Olympics I never rooted so hard for people I didn't know just because I see them wearing the Swiss flag and it's, I have goose bumps just thinking about like it, it's just so big,” said Valenzuela, who is also one of 53 athletes this year to represent her alma mater, Stanford University. “I think it doesn't get bigger in sports to represent your country and you know that people are watching and rooting for you, so it's huge.”
With all the excitement surrounding her involvement in the originally postponed Olympics, she’s got one of the closest people in her life on the bag to take it all in with her: her younger brother, Alexis. A second-year student at Southern Methodist University, Alexis was diagnosed at age three as being on the autism spectrum. Too young to caddie in 2016, he’s making his first appearance in the Games alongside his superstar sister, to which the older Valenzuela couldn’t be more grateful.
“He was so much help today. He really knew what to tell me on course. He was just like, take a deep breath, good posture, go for it,” said Valenzuela. “I think hearing him over and over say a lot of positive things really sunk in and I felt I was calm out there. I had an awful warm up. When I say awful, it was horrible. Monday I was like I can't hit a golf ball and today just everything was fine. So, I think I managed to disassociate practice from tournament and just get into the competitive mood, rely on my instincts and just play golf.”