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Sunday, August 13, 2017

Valenzuela, Schubert take final step in U.S. Women's Amateur

   It’s Stanford vs. Texas. The Cardinal and the Longhorns. Wait, is somebody jumping the gun on the college football season here?
   Nah, this is a golf blog, we’re talking about the final of the U.S. Women’s Amateur Sunday at San Diego Country Club in Chula Vista, Calif. which will feature a showdown between a couple of power players from power conferences, Stanford sophomore Albane Valenzuela, the Swiss miss who is No. 3 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking, vs. Texas senior Sophia Schubert of Oak Ridge, Tenn.
   The U.S. Women’s Amateur was once an event dominated by college players, but junior golfers had taken over in recent years. Sunday’s scheduled 36-hole final will be the first to feature two college players since Duke’s Amanda Blumenherst defeated Arizona State’s Azahara Munoz, the reigning NCAA champion, to win the title in 2008.
   The 21-year-old Schubert is bidding to become the first winner over the age of 20 since the victory for Blumenherst, then 21.
   Their combination of talent and grit was on display as Valenzuela and Shubert reached the final with hard-fought semifinal victories Saturday.
   Valenzuela knew exactly what she was up against in taking on UCLA junior Lilia Kha-Tu Vu. The No. 5 player in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking, Vu had dusted a field that included Valenzuela and the eventual NCAA individual champion in Arizona State’s Monica Vaughn by six shots in the Pac-12 Championship at the Sewailo Golf Club Club in Tucson, Ariz.
   The front nine was a stare-down with Vu taking a 1-up lead with a par at the fourth with the rest of the holes halved. But Vu blinked when a short par putt lipped out at the 10th, allowing Valenzuela to even the match.
   And then the talented Valenzuela pounced, winning the 11th with a birdie and the 12th with a par to take a 2-up advantage. When she birdied the par-5 16th, it was over, with Valenzuela claiming a 3 and 2 victory.
   If you want to know what Texas coach Ryan Murphy thinks about Schubert, you could ask him at San Diego Country Club because he’s been on the bag all week. She was the glue on a Texas team that gutted out a seven-shot victory in the Big 12 Championship at The Dominion Country Club in San Antonio.
   Schubert beat back the challenges from the kind of talented teens that have been flourishing in the U.S. Women’s Amateur in recent years when she ousted Isabella Fierro, a 16-year-old Mexican who looked unstoppable at times earlier in the week, in the quarterfinals and then pulled out a 2-up decision Saturday over Chia Yen Wu, a 13-year-old from Chinese Taipei who played without fear in Chula Vista this week.
   Maybe Alabama’s Lauren Stephenson softened up Wu for Schubert a little with that epic, USGA record 30-hole quarterfinal Thursday.
   But if Wu was weary, she didn’t look it when she answered Schubert’s back-to-back birdies at 12 and 13 that gave her a 2-up lead with back-to-back birdies of her own at 14 and 15, the latter on one of her patented bombs from 24 feet, to even the match with three holes to play.
   Wu couldn’t get it up and down from a greenside bunker at the par-5 16 to fall behind again and Schubert finished Wu off by knocking her approach stiff at the 18th. After watching Wu get off the mat time and again against Stephenson, Schubert wasn’t taking anything for granted.
   Stanford came up agonizingly short of a third straight trip to the final match in the NCAA Championship at unseasonably chilly Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Ill., falling in the semifinals to Pac-12 rival and eventual national champion Arizona State in the semifinals. Texas did a good job getting there, but was unable to make it to the final eight that made match play.
   But Valenzuela and Schubert played huge roles in whatever success their respective teams achieved. By the end of Sunday one of them will be holding the Robert Cox Trophy, one of the most iconic pieces of championship hardware in sports.

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