As the list of professional golfers opting out of the Olympics continues to grow, there have been a series of hindsight-filled suggestions via traditional and social media that the sport would have been better served if the competition had been open exclusively to amateurs. It’s an understandable reaction to the negative publicity brought on by the disproportionate number of marquee male golfers dropping out of Rio compared to athletes in other sports.
It’s also an alternative that would never have worked. Olympic officials added golf to the Games under the contingency that the world’s best players (read: best pros) would be competing. Anything else, and the sport would still be on the outside looking in. Meanwhile, the long-term goal of inspiring growth of the sport in areas of the world where it has yet to take off would be far more difficult to accomplish if the best players in the game (read: best pros) aren’t the ones doing the inspiring.
You are still in luck, however, if you are looking for amateur golfers to compete in the Olympics. The current system allows for amateurs to qualify so long as they earn points in pro events so as to be listed on the Official World Golf Ranking or the Rolex Rankings. When the July 11 deadline passes to lock in qualifiers, a pair of female amateur golfers—Ireland’s Leona Maguire and Switzerland’s Albane Valenzuela—are likely to have earned a spot on their country’s respective women’s teams.
Maguire, 21, is a rising junior at Duke and was ranked as the No. 1 amateur in the world from May 2015 to May 2016 (she’s currently No. 2). She was the college player of the year in 2015 and has played as an amateur in a handful of Ladies European Tour events (finishing second in the 2015 ISPS Handa Ladies European Masters) and three women’s professional majors.
Maguire played on the victorious Great Britain & Ireland Curtis Cup team last month and is competing this week in the U.S. Women’s Open at CordeValle. Amazingly, she is currently the only player from Ireland inside the top 60 of the Olympic Ranking, meaning she could be the country’s only female golfer competing in Rio.
“Hopefully after a good week I’ll be all set,” said Maguire said. “The Olympics would be an amazing opportunity. I’ve wanted to play in the Olympics for a long time. It would be an unbelievable experience.”
Valenzuela, 18, is 11th on the World Amateur Ranking. In March, she played in her first women’s professional major, the ANA Inspiration, where she shared low-amateur honors when she finished T-65. The resulting rankings points made qualifying for the Olympics become a more realistic goal, so she sought sponsor’s exemptions into subsequent Ladies European Tour events. A T-5 showing at the Lalla Mayern Cup in Morocco, followed by a T-4 at the Tipsport Golf Masters in the Czech Republic moved her inside the top 60 of the Olympic Ranking.
Valenzuela, who’ll start college at Stanford this fall, is playing at the Women’s Open as well, and if she were to make the cut she would seemingly lock up one of the two Swiss spots.
“It would be such an honor to play for Switzerland and be in the Olympic Village,” Valenzuela said.