PALOS VERDES ESTATES, CALIFORNIA | Twenty-four-year-old Stanford alum Albane Valenzuela shot 5 under in the first round of the Palos Verdes Championship, a round punctuated by three consecutive birdies early in her back nine, followed by two more to close. Valenzuela said, "It's been a long time since I've had a good birdie streak in my round, so I'm very happy with the way I played."
Valenzuela is no stranger to Palos Verdes Golf Club, having played here four times prior during college. She said, "I love this place. I have some very special memories here playing with Stanford. I lost the Pac-12 (Championship) here in a playoff so I had some really good rounds on this course. I shot 5 under also as an amateur."
Stanford coach, Anne Walker, who came out to watch her alumnus said, "She has been one of the most impressive ball strikers I've ever coached with her consistency, the shape, and the fluidity of her swing. She has this old-school rhythm to her. She's got great hands with the ball. I remember telling her that when she was getting ready to head out on tour that the sound coming off of the clubface was something I was going to miss, and I do miss it. Not many women have that sound."
Coming into this week, Valenzuela was feeding off of the momentum and memories she made in college. Albane turned pro during her senior year at Stanford and was named Pac-12 Player of the Year in 2019. She said, "I felt like I played some great golf out there, so it was a matter of staying patient and trusting the process. I feel like I've done all the right things. I'm working hard and it's just a matter of (scoring). It's out of your control sometimes. I hit the ball really well today from tee to green. Had kind of a bumpy start, a lot of lip-outs but I managed to stay patient and really fight until the end."
After missing the cut at the DIO Implant LA Open, Valenzuela seemed relieved with her first round of birdie putts but still thinks that she can do better in the long run.
She said, "I knew it was eventually a matter of time before I saw putts drop. I shot 5-under today, but I gave myself 16 opportunities for birdie. I feel like the last few weeks, I've just seen the ball go around the hole and not drop. Getting that three-birdie streak and then finally getting (birdie) on the last one was a good feeling."
The former No. 2 player in World Amateur Golf Rankings has been frustrated with her recent performance so today was a breakthrough moment. Valenzuela said, "Golf tests your patience like no other sport. My game has been good this year, and the score hasn't reflected the way I've been playing."
Coach Walker said you can't always look at missed birdies in a negative light because that means the opportunity was there. She said the key is "being able to control your mindset enough to know it's still positive."
Remembering a few phases at Stanford when Albane wasn't playing her best, Walker said, "She actually came out the other side and then almost won. She is one of those players. I think she's definitely a momentum player. She relies on an internal kind of emotion on how she feels about something. So it wouldn't surprise me to see Albane keep her level head and then be knocking on the door for a win the very next week."
Albane is proud of her ball-striking and worked hard to prepare in the off-season. She said, "Last year was the total opposite. I was hitting awfully and scrambling to make pars, cuts, and keep my card last year. Now I'm finding fairways, hitting a lot of greens, and just hitting it well. I'm very calm, and I trust my own game."
Heading into tomorrow, Valenzuela is setting herself small goals and trying to target as many fairways and greens as possible. "Golf is a marathon. There is a lot of golf left out there. I'm just happy to get off to a good start.”