09 Aug 2020 | Amateur golf |

Ruffels on the brink of history

by Mark Hayes

Gabi Ruffels US Am semifinal image
Gabi Ruffels plays from sand during her semi-final win today. Photo: USGA

Gabi Ruffels stands on the brink of one of the more extraordinary achievements in Australian golf.

Ruffels, with dual victories today at Woodmont Country Club in Maryland, arrived back in the US Women’s Amateur final for a second consecutive year.

The last remaining stumbling block for the Victorian is 17-year-old American Rose Zhang, who beat Ruffels’ University of Southern California teammate Alyaa Abdulghany 2&1 in her semi-final.

They will play a 36-hole match tomorrow, with Ruffels on the verge of joining one of golf’s most elite clubs. Only four players have won the sport’s highest amateur prize back-to-back since World War II – Julie Inkster, Kay Cockerill, Kelli Kuehne and Danielle Kang.

Her 2&1 semi-final win over Colombian Valery Plata today gave her an 11th straight victory – dating back to her title charge in Mississippi last year – and moved her past Kimberly Kim and into second place for the most consecutive wins to start her US Women’s Amateur career since Dorothy Campbell, who had 13 straight between 1909-11, including titles in 1909 and 1910.

Remarkably, she has trailed in all five of her matches this week, yet has shown composure well beyond her years in dazzling back-nine runs.

That was never more evident than in her morning quarter-final today with a closing birdie to take down world No.4 Emilia Migliaccio with her one and only lead for the match.

“That was pretty crazy,” Ruffels said.

“She jumped me early but I rallied back (to square) around the turn before I got into a bit of trouble on the 15th and went 1-down again.

“But I hit a nice shot on (the par-3 16th) to about 10 feet and rolled in the putt to get square. “We halved 17, then were in the middle of 18 and she sort of flared her approach to about 45 feet right on the edge of the green.

“It was crazy because there was so much adrenaline going on, and she’s such a good putter, that I had to hit a good shot and I managed to calm myself and hit an 8-iron from 132m into 10 feet.

“She hit an amazing putt, it looked like it was in the whole way and I was sort of hoping it would go in for her.

“But it just missed and I knocked mine in and yeah …”

That polite and modest demeanour is absolutely not put on; but it also belies the fierce competitive streak within the Victoria Golf Club member.

That adrenaline converted to an early birdie and lead against Plata, who herself was on fire with birdies on the third and fifth to take a 1-up edge.

But by the time Ruffels made an uncharacteristic error on the 14th, the Aussie was three under and back in control.

A quality par up the 17th after a curling birdie putt sat on the lip was enough for Ruffels to win 2&1.

“Trailing has been a bit of a pattern this week, I’ve been down early a bit,” she said.

“But it’s a really tough course, one of the toughest I’ve played, and I feel like the matches really start on the 13th or 14th holes.

“Even the 16th needs a long shot in – I’ve been hitting hybrids off the tee there – and it’s all pretty demanding on your long game … and I think that plays to my advantage.”

Ruffels said Zhang, the youngest finalist since 2016, will present a tough challenge.

“She’s obviously playing very well … there are no easy matches out here because everyone has accomplishments to get to this point, they all are really good players,” said Ruffels, who has been asked several times about her chance to join such illustrious company.

“Winning a second time would mean everything … I know the list of names that have won it twice and I’d love to join them.

“But I won’t be thinking about it tomorrow when I get back to the course.

“I’ll just be doing the same thing I’ve been doing all week, everything I did last year. I just try to have fun out there … it’s a great feeling to be out there and I really enjoy that feeling.

“If it all comes together, great. But I’ll do just what I always do.”

The semi-final victories today gave both women exemptions into the 2021 US Women’s Open at Olympic Club in San Francisco.

Ruffels already has an exemption into this year’s USWO in Houston, and will next weekend head to Scotland to compete in the Women’s British Open.

The final will begin at 9.30pm (Australian eastern time tonight) and the second round shown live on Kayo Sports and Fox Ch.506 from 4.30am on Monday (AET).

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