01 Jun 2022 | Professional golf |
Ruffels riding the rollercoaster
by Dane Heverin
Gabriela Ruffels’ rollercoaster golfing journey once again reaches a high point this week at the US Women’s Open at Pine Needles in North Carolina.
The 22-year-old former number one Australian junior tennis player has experienced the highs and lows of golf since she put down her tennis racquet and picked up a golf club at the age of 14, but one consistent element of her young career has been her ability to rise to the occasion at majors.
Ruffels missed the cut when she first teed it up in a major at the 2019 US Women’s Open, but in her six starts on the biggest stage since her worst result has been tied 33rd at last year’s Women’s PGA Championship while finishing in the top-20 four times, and on the Australian Golf Show podcast she said opened up on why she has been able to deliver at women’s golf’s showpiece events.
“Obviously majors are what you dream about and what you play for. I guess I just like the tough golf courses and I’ve been able to play really well on those,” Ruffels, who qualified for this week’s event at the Dragonfly Country Club qualifying sectional, said.
“I love the majors. I’ve been fortunate enough to play and have some exemptions after winning the US Amateur and playing as an amateur. I gradually feel more and more comfortable and I love the challenge. It’d be great to carry that streak along this week.”
The Victorian, who only turned pro in February 2021, is staying in neighbouring Pinehurst this week and she is banking on the positive vibes of her fond memories of winning the Women’s North & South Amateur in 2019 at Pinehurst, and Pine Needles’ similarity to home to fuel her assault on The Harton S. Semple Trophy.
“The course is amazing. It’s definitely a US Open feel. The USGA always does such a good job with their course setup. It’s definitely going to be a challenging one,” Ruffels said.
“It reminds me more of Australian courses than a typical US course that has thick rough. It’s definitely going to be a challenge but I'm looking forward to it.”
Challenges have been a regular theme of her young career since she turned professional in 2021 as she has grappled with not having status over in the United States, handling the off course side of professional golf and the many other lessons she has been dealt.
“It’s been a lot of learning. I turned pro in February of last year and played on sponsor exemptions, and now I have status on the Epson Tour. It’s been so much learning and I’m grateful for it. I feel like I’ve changed as a person as well as a golfer since I turned pro and I feel as though I’m definitely improving,” she said.
“Even the off course stuff is so different to me with how you manage travel and accommodation, and you have to do everything on your own. Again it’s been a lot of learning and I’m really enjoying the journey.
“I’ve kind of leaned on my team. I have a great team around me. I’m living in Orlando, Florida where a lot of Australian golfers who are now based in the US have come to reside, which has been great. It kind of feels a sense of home and it’s nice to have other golfers around.
“My brother, Ryan, which is nice, Lucas Herbert, Curtis Luck and now Steph Kyriacou has joined that golf club, and obviously Golf Australia has the base in Orlando so it definitely has that home feel. I’m kind of getting more used to pro life.”
Another aspect of Ruffels’ game that she has become more comfortable with has been handling the added intensity which comes at professional level - when that was the very thing that took her away from tennis and to golf.
“The first time I even played in a tournament, I was so amazed how you could talk to your playing partners or your opponents and they weren’t necessarily your opponents because it’s kind of you against the golf course. I really enjoyed that aspect of it,” she recalled.
“It was a more social and a less brutal, less competitive atmosphere than tennis, which is kind of a one-on-one format. I really enjoyed the relaxed and social nature of golf, which I think a lot of people do. That’s one of the great things about golf is that you can go out with a couple of friends and wish each other well because you’re playing against the golf course, and not against them, and that’s one of the biggest things that drew me to the sport.
“It was more like that even in college because you’re around a team, but on a professional level, now it’s your job and people take it more seriously and it’s harder to find true good friends out here. You can still walk down the fairways and have a stroll with your caddy and talk to your playing partners which is what I’ve continued to enjoy about golf.”
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