Golf Australia

Gabi marches as Steph agonises

Gabi Ruffels
Gabi Ruffels and her USC coach turned caddie Justin Silverstein crunch the numbers on the 13th fairway. Picture: USGA

And then, in the most painstaking of circumstances, there was one.

Gabi Ruffels has been left to fly the Aussie flag at the US Women’s Amateur after Sydney mates Doey Choi and Steph Kyriacou suffered tortuous exits as match play began in Mississippi today.

Ruffels, a Victorian based at the University of Southern California, continued her exemplary recent form with a convincing 5&4 win over American Shaebug Scarberry.

In the following match on the Old Waverly course, Choi made a bogey on the last to lose 1-down to Haylin Harris when a par would have forced overtime as the American wobbled late.

But more heartbreak came later when her New South Wales teammate Kyriacou was 4-up with four to play, but painfully fell on the 22nd hole to Aussie slayer Brooke Seay.

Remarkably, Seay putted in from the fringe on the 18th hole against another Sydneysider Grace Kim before eventually prevailing in 21 holes at the recent US Girls’ Amateur.

This time Seay made birdies on the 15th, 16th and 18th – the last conceded – to force extra holes.

On the 19th, the St Michaels member canned a 6m birdie putt of her own from the fringe to pour the pressure back on Seay. But the American calmly rolled in the 1.5m answering birdie to push on again.

Again it looked like Seay was in trouble when her approach to the par-five 20th caught up under a bunker lip and she was forced to just play out.

But Kyriacou couldn’t ram home the edge and matching bogeys gave Seay another shot.

Nothing came of it at the par-three 21st, but the American rolled in a 5m birdie putt on the 22nd to finally prevail.

“I actually kind of like being in that position,” Seay said of her comeback from the brink.

“It's more pressure, but in some sense it's liberating to know you just have to hit that shot, and so something just kind of turned on, and my game started coming into place. I just played really solid the last few holes.”

So Australia’s hopes fall on the shoulders of Ruffels, the Victoria Golf Club youngster who has been in career-best form in the past six months, including winning the recent North and South Amateur at Pinehurst.

“I made a bit of a shaky start and she birdied the second … but she made three bogeys in the middle of the front nine and I just played steady golf and was suddenly three or four up,” Ruffels said.

“But I think the key moment came on the 11th because she’d just made a birdie to (get a hole back), and then was on that next green in two and I had to lay up out of thick rough.

“I managed to get up and down for a par, then she three-putted (from 12m) and had a bogey to give me the hole and go 4-up again.

“From then on I was pretty solid.”

Ruffels, at 19 still a relative newcomer to elite golf having not taken up the sport competitively until she was 15, said her great form this northern summer had her thinking big.

“I really enjoy the match play … I think having played it a bit at home in Melbourne and at things like the Interstate Series, it doesn’t feel (daunting),” she said.

“And being in that team environment at USC and playing things like the Eastlake Cup and the (NCAA) nationals in match play, it’s all helped me and it’s good for this event.

“I’ve definitely improved as a player (since coming) over here (to college) and I’m playing at a more consistently higher level now than I was.”

Ruffels will face Choi’s conqueror Harris in the Round of 32.

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