05 Jun 2020 | Amateur golf | Feature stories |
Great Australian Moments 12: Ruffels makes history
by Martin Blake
At 15, Gabi Ruffels was playing tennis. She was Australia’s No. 1 junior and she had the pedigree for it, too, with a father (Ray) who had played Davis Cup and a mother (Anna-Maria Fernandez) who had been a WTA tour player as well.
It is golf’s eternal good fortune that she switched sports and as a 19-year-old, she was winning a US Amateur championship – the first Australian woman to do so in 119 chapters of the prestigious event.
Ruffels’ development from the start to that point is one of the more astonishing rises in Australian golf history.
Although the family lived for some time in the Florida community of Isleworth where numerous pro golfers are domiciled, she had barely picked up a club before 15, ultimately choosing to follow elder brother Ryan into the game after they returned to Australia to be based in Melbourne.
She joined Victoria Golf Club on the sandbelt and began with a handicap of 30. She was impressively good almost immediately, and upon completing year 12 studies, took up a playing scholarship at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles in 2018.
Her US Amateur win came at Old Waverly in Mississippi in a 36-hole final against Albane Valenzuela of Switzerland, one-up. She had to make a curling, downhill putt of just more than three metres at the last hole to win it; Valenzuela, who needed to win the hole to extend the final, had hit a nine iron to within a metre.
Ruffels had endured other issues on the day. Her caddie, Justin Silverstein, had needed to leave the course after 33 holes had been played because he had to catch a flight, and another amateur star, Blair Stockett, took the bag for the final three holes.
“I'm a proud Australian,” said Ruffels. “That’s where I started playing golf. I have such a huge support system back there, and to win it not only for myself but everyone back home is huge, and it just means the world.’’
Three Australian men – Curtis Luck (2016), Nick Flanagan (2003) and world Golf Hall of Fame member Walter Travis (1900, 1901, 1903) – have won US Amateurs, but no women until Ruffels.
The victory gave her a start in the US Women’s Open and the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, offers she has been unable to take up thus far because of restrictions around the Covid 19 pandemic.
But we are going to see a lot more of Gabi Ruffels, that’s for certain.
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