08 Aug 2020 | Amateur golf |

Ruffels extends streak into quarters

by Mark Hayes

Gabi Ruffels has torched her rivals with her iron play on the back nine. Picture: USGA, Chris Keane
Gabi Ruffels has torched her rivals with her iron play on the back nine. Picture: USGA, Chris Keane

It’s hard to know what’s more extraordinary about Gabi Ruffels’ ongoing US Women’s Amateur charge.

Ruffels, 20, became the last woman standing for Australia today after an agonising loss for Emily Mahar at the Woodmont Country Club in Maryland.

And Ruffels’ remarkable ninth straight match victory in the world’s premier amateur women’s event – dating back to last year – came in a way that’s becoming increasingly troublesome for her rivals.

In all three matches this week – and two last year in her ground-breaking triumph in Mississippi – the Victorian has trailed with 10 holes to play; occasionally far later.

Yet with a cool demeanour rarely seen at any level of the game, her best comes when she needs it most.

In today’s Round of 32 match against 2019 US Junior Girls champ Lei Ye, of China, Ruffels turned the screw and eventually walked off a 2-up winner with a bomb for birdie on the 18th.

Then in her Round of 16 afternoon match, the University of Southern California junior hadn’t done much wrong, but walked to the ninth tee 1-down against Spain’s Teresa Toscano Berrero.

Never mind.

Four birdies in the next eight holes, including another bomb to close on the par-3 16th, and the No.6 seed was a 4&2 winner and into the final eight tomorrow.

In her three matches this week, on what is seemingly a demanding stretch of the course from 9-16, she has won a combined 14 holes and lost just one.

“I don’t mind the back nine, especially the finishing holes,” Ruffels said with trademark understatement after she advanced farther than any defending champion since Danielle Kang in 2011.

“I've been down in all of my matches, but No.9 has been a big turning point for me.

“They are super tough, very demanding long holes and I feel as though they play to my strength with long irons in.

“Also I was able to make a few long putts at the end to close both matches out today.”

The Victoria Golf Club member will next face No.3 seed, American Emilia Migliaccio on Saturday morning (local time). The winner will advance to an afternoon semi-final.

Mahar, though, was left to rue a blown opportunity after having her Round of 32 match on her stick at 3-up with four to play against South African Kaleigh Telfer.

The Queenslander, a member at Keperra on Brisbane’s north side, had a makeable par putt for what likely would have been a half on the par-5 15th.

The missed attempt ran well past and when she couldn’t make the return putt, nerves kicked in.

“She hit one really close on the 16th and I was all of a sudden just 1-up,” said Mahar, a senior at Virginia Tech.

“Then I stood on the 17th tee and just pulled my drive into the water … and the lead was gone.”

Mahar battled hard for an up-and-down par on 18 to extend the match, then thought she was again in the box seat on the 19th before Telfer made a great save from over the back of the green for a half.

Then a fluffy lie on the 20th proved her undoing when her chip shot came out soft and she was unable to make a par from 12feet, allowing Telfer to advance.

Mahar, while clearly disappointed, said it had given her great belief for future tournaments with at least one more year of her college career ahead.

"It's tough, obviously, but I feel I played really well and just haven't had the (match) experience this year with everything that's happened," she said.

"But I can't wait to get back into it again now."


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