Golf Australia

Agony, ecstasy for Aussies at Pinehurst

Gabi Ruffels
Gabi Ruffels rode a hot putter to the North and South Amateur final. Picture: Pinehurst.com

Two Australian women went to the overtime well at the time-honoured North and South Amateur, but only one was sated after an epic day at Pinehurst.

Gabi Ruffels will fly the Aussie flag alone in tomorrow’s final after a series of outstanding putts gave her semi-final victory on the 22nd hole over Natalie Srinivasan in North Carolina.

But an all-Aussie final narrowly slipped away with Becky Kay suffering a 19th hole loss to another American, Stephani Lau, who rode her own extraordinary finish to stave off the Queenslander.

Earlier, Ruffels had taken out fellow Victoria Golf Club member and former state teammate Stephanie Bunque 3&1 in their quarter-final, while Kay came from behind to beat nominal favourite and last year’s runner-up Anna Redding on the 19th hole.

Kay had exchanged momentum with Lau several times in their semi-final, but seemed to have taken a crucial advantage with birdie on the par-five 16th to go 1-up.

The Gold Coaster then drilled her tee shot in tight on the short 17th and appeared headed for the final when Lau’s tee shot spun back off the false front.

But the Northwestern University senior held her nerve and rammed in her putt from off the front edge to stay alive as Kay drained her short birdie to maintain her lead.

Both players hit approach shots to makeable positions on the 18th green, but after Kay missed her try, Lau drilled one from 4m to extend the match.

Kay found the left greenside bunker on the 19th hole – Pinehurst No. 2’s first – and blasted 6m past the hole. Her long par try stopped agonisingly short and Lau two-putted to advance, despite a nervous first putt.

Focus then shifted to the second semi where Ruffels made her own 4m par bomb on the 19th hole to keep her match alive, as she did again on the 21st hole, when she charged in a 3m birdie putt with Srinivasan in tight.

Into a fresh breeze on the long par-four fourth, neither player could reach the green in regulation and the Melburnian again looked in trouble when her third perched precariously 3.5m above the hole with Srinivasan only 2m away and with an uphill putt.

Ruffels barely tapped her ball to set it on its way, but gave a huge fist pump when it dropped again for par.

The emerging University of Southern California ace then watched as Srinivasan’s putt slid past the cup.

“I felt like I had to make every putt today,” Ruffels told Pinehurst.com.

“Natalie, to her credit, just kept finding ways to get up and down, all day long. It was incredible.

“But I backed myself all day (especially) with my putter. I’m super proud of the way I hung in there and fought.”

Now she finds herself one great match away from winning the coveted Putter Boy trophy, one that has gained more and more prestige in Ruffels’ eyes the more time she’s spent at Pinehurst.

“Oh, I would love it to be able to say I won here,” she said. “Pinehurst No. 2 feels like home. I keep falling in love with Pinehurst a little more every day I come out here.”


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