It has been seven years since there was a successful defense of the Golf Manitoba Women’s Amateur Championship title.
Twenty-year-old Greer Valaquenta of Southwood appears to be more than prepared to end that mini drought when the 2020 edition of the championship begins Monday at Bel Acres.
The former tennis star turned in a dominant performance this past weekend to capture her first City and District Women’s Championship at Portage Golf Club.
Valaquenta took control of the 36-hole event with a three-under-71 on Saturday that left her nine strokes ahead of defending champ Charmaine Mackid of Breezy Bend going into Sunday’s final round.
“My main goal for the second round was I just really wanted to post another really good score just so I could feel proud of the score for myself,” Valaquenta said of her mindset ahead of Sunday’s round. “It was less a matter of winning as it was just playing another great round.”
Valaquenta followed up with a two-over-76 to finish in the red in a tournament for the first time of her short but so far impressive career, which began five years ago after a foot injury ended her days as a competitive tennis player.
She began playing tennis after receiving a racquet as a birthday gift when she turned four, and her father Arman asked her if she’d like to take lessons.
“Long story short, when I was five we ended up moving to Florida so that I could train for most of the year at the IMG Academy,” Valaquenta said. “I was there until I was 11 and then was very fortunate that Monica Seles agreed to teach me. She’s just one of the most kind and genuine people on the planet, so I was so lucky. I really tried to make it in tennis.”
That was until a painful left foot injury forced her to shift priorities.
Valaquenta says the 10 years or so of constant running and training took its toll on her sesamoid bone, which is in the ball of the foot, right below the joint of the big toe.
“It had bruised it very badly, so I couldn’t really run without it hurting. It still hurts me to this day if I’m bending down to read a putt multiple times in a round.”
Valaquenta wanted no part of an operation that would have involved having metal screws in her left foot.
She was also finding the mental aspect of tennis draining.
“I could have kept playing tennis with the injury. It would have hurt, yes, but I decided the sport really wasn’t for me anymore,” Valaquenta said. “I was very competitive. But I also did not have a mean streak which — not naming any names — but several people in that sport, they have to have that in order to succeed. That wasn’t me, I didn’t want to make people feel bad. So golf was a great way to still be competitive, but not have to hurt people by winning.”
Valaquenta credits her success on the links to practice and having a great coach, which she feels she has in David Whelan, a former student of famed instructor David Leadbetter.
“I feel like he’s a god sent to earth because he’s one of the nicest men you’ll ever meet. He’s just such a wealth of information, he’s been playing the game for about 40 years so he knows almost everything there is.”
Obviously, that knowledge has paid dividends for Valaquenta as she prepares for a shot at becoming Manitoba’s first back-to-back women’s amateur champ since Elmhurst’s Bri-ann Tokariwski accomplished that feat in 2012 and 2013.
“I always try to take it one event at a time,” Valaquenta said. “So even though I am defending this championship, I always like to go in feeling like the underdog because it makes me try all the harder.”
And if it works out next week at Bel Acres, it once again comes down to her and Mackid — like it has in the past two city and district championships — or the 2019 Amateur, don’t expect any trash talk or icy stares between the two rivals.
“Charmaine is really lovely and she’s a really good golfer as well. We just have a great time when we go out there,” Valaquenta said. “We have a nice chat as we walk down the fairway. The competitive side, it’s pretty healthy.”
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