U.S. WOMEN'S AMATEUR
Ruffels Makes History As First Australian Champion August 11, 2019 | West Point, Miss. By David Shefter, USGA

USC rising junior Gabriela Ruffels will be the first Australian to have her name engraved on the Robert Cox Trophy. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

U.S. Women's Amateur Home

What Happened

If you are going to make history in the world’s second-oldest women’s amateur championship, it might as well be dramatic.

Gabriela Ruffels converted a downhill, left-to-right curling 10-foot birdie putt on the 36th green at Old Waverly Golf Club on Sunday to defeat Albane Valenzuela, 1 up, and clinch the 119th U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship title. The 19-year-old became the first Australian to hoist the Robert Cox Trophy. She also is the 11th player from her country to win a USGA championship, joining the likes of Karrie Webb, Minjee Lee, Jan Stephenson and David Graham.

A rising junior at the University of Southern California, Ruffels joins Jill McGill (1994), Becky Lucidi (2002) and Jennifer Song (2009) as Trojans to win the U.S. Women’s Amateur.

RELATED VIDEO: Interview With 2019 U.S. Women's Amateur Champion Gabriela Ruffels

“I don’t really know yet. It’s been kind of a blur the last kind of 20 minutes,” said Ruffels of her mindset shortly after her victory. “But this is amazing. This is what you dream of as a kid when you start playing golf. This is the biggest championship in amateur golf. I’m still speechless.”

For Valenzuela, 21, of Switzerland, no words could shed her disappointment of a second championship-match defeat – she lost in the 2017 final to Sophia Schubert at San Diego Country Club.

“I mean, it’s tough,” said Valenzuela, a rising senior at Stanford University who was playing in her last U.S. Women’s Amateur. “And it will be even tougher tonight, but I fought really hard.”

Ruffels, who is No. 52 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking™, knew she had to make the putt on the 36th green with Valenzuela’s ball sitting just 3 feet from the hole after a gorgeous 9-iron, 138-yard approach from the fairway. Her substitute caddie – Mississippi State junior Blair Stockett took over the bag on the 33rd hole when her regular caddie for the week, USC women’s golf coach Justin Silverstein, had to catch a flight home from Memphis, Tenn., for a Monday morning funeral in California – told her the putt would break more than it looked. Stockett knows Old Waverly well as Mississippi State regularly practices at the 31-year-old Jerry Pate/Bob Cupp design.

The stroke was perfect and at the very last second, the ball trundled over the lip into the hole, touching off an applause from the approximately 300 spectators surrounding the green.

AUSTRALIAN USGA CHAMPIONS
NAME USGA CHAMPIONSHIP YEAR
Nick Flanagan U.S. Amateur 2003
David Graham U.S. Open 1981
Minjee Lee U.S. Girls' Junior 2012
Min Woo Lee U.S. Junior Amateur 2016
Curtis Luck U.S. Amateur 2016
Graham Marsh U.S. Senior Open 1997
Geoff Ogilvy U.S. Open 2006
Gabriela Ruffels U.S. Women's Amateur 2019
Jan Stephenson U.S. Women's Open 1983
Walter Travis U.S. Amateur 1900, 1901, 1903
Karrie Webb U.S. Women's Open 2000, 2001

“Again, it’s still kind of a blur, but my caddie, Blair, was great,” said Ruffels of making the quick adjustment after Silverstein departed. “She made it so clear. She made me so comfortable. And to be honest, I didn’t think that last putt on 18 was going in, but seeing that just drip in, probably the best feeling of my life.”

One hole earlier, Ruffels had grabbed her first lead since the 14th hole of the morning 18 when she stuck her 6-iron tee shot on the 168-yard, par-3 to 6 feet below the hole. Valenzuela, who is No. 5 in the WAGR and shared low-amateur honors in the Evian Championship two weeks ago, nearly holed her 40-foot birdie putt, leaving the door open for Ruffels. Her putt caught the left side of the hole and dropped.

Sunday’s 36-hole marathon was not only hotly contested on the course, but temperatures that reached into the 90s with a heat index touching triple digits made it a test of stamina and intestinal fortitude. Ruffels admitted to feeling the effects of the heat during the afternoon 18 and had her mother bring her an umbrella to stay free from the searing sun.

“Just kind of maintaining energy levels was hard,” said Ruffels, “but I just kind of got in a new windset toward the end. I think the adrenaline kind of kicked in, and Blair was also a nice fresh kind of addition. Throughout the middle I was kind of tired, but toward the end it was fine.”

After a morning 18 that saw both players struggle – Ruffels shot 1-over 73 (with match-play concessions) and Valenzuela carded a 75 – the action heated up, literally and figuratively, during the second 18.

With the match tied at the break, Valenzuela drew first blood with a 20-foot birdie on the par-3 21st hole. This came after both competitors birdied the par-5 20th. Valenzuela carried a 1-up advantage into the second nine, but it didn’t last long. Ruffels, the 2019 North & South Women’s Amateur champion, converted an 11-foot birdie on the par-5 28th to tie the match.

On the 129-yard 30th hole, Valenzuela nearly holed out, the ball stopping 3 feet from the hole. A birdie gave her a 1-up lead that would last until the par-5 33rd. Ruffels, who matched Valenzuela’s birdie on No. 32, laced a 4-iron to 15 feet. A two-putt birdie won the hole and set the stage for Ruffels’ late heroics.

“I’m really proud of myself for doing that,” said Valenzuela of her approach on the last hole. “I think that shows that I can play golf. You know, under pressure I was able to hit the shot I wanted, and gave myself an opportunity, and she hit a wonderful putt and she had a great birdie on 17, so kudos to her.”

Gabriela Ruffels watches her title-clinching birdie putt on the 36th hole. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

Two years ago, Ruffels arrived at USC talented but still raw. She didn’t start playing golf until she was 14 after a solid junior tennis career. Both of her parents are former tennis professionals. Her dad, Ray, was a mixed double finalist at Wimbledon and the US Open in 1978 with hall-of-famer Billie Jean King. Her mom, Ann-Maria, won the 1981 AIAW national collegiate singles title as a USC senior. But when older brother Ryan started to become an elite golfer, Gabriela wanted to follow suit. Ryan turned pro at 17 and competes on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica and Mackenzie Tour-PGA Tour Canada. Ruffels has similar aspirations.

In the last year alone, Ruffels shed two strokes off her season scoring average, thanks to a highly competitive team at USC that features five players currently in the top 70 of the WAGR.

“We just included last year Malia Nam (lost in the Round of 64 this week) as a sixth person, and five people travel, so there was a lot of competition between us at school,” said Ruffels. “There was definitely a lot of competition to go and travel, and we all push each other so much. And having that pressure to make the team, especially with all these great players around, I think has pushed me to a new level and has made me try and work harder and harder, and I think I can credit that.”

On a sultry Sunday in eastern Mississippi, that process took a major step forward.

What the Champion Receives

For winning the U.S. Women’s Amateur, Ruffels receives a gold medal and custody of the Robert Cox Trophy for one year. Her name also will be on a plaque in the Hall of Champions at the USGA Golf Museum that will commemorate all of the USGA champions for 2019. She also earns a 10-year exemption into the U.S. Women’s Amateur as well as an exemption into the 2020 U.S. Women’s Open at Champions Golf Club in Houston, Texas. She also earns an invitation to next April’s Augusta National Women’s Amateur as well as invitations to the ANA Inspiration, Women’s British Open and Evian championships, provided she is still an amateur.

Notable

  • Albane Valenzuela receives a silver medal and an exemption into the 2020 U.S. Women’s Open (must be an amateur). She also is exempt into the next three U.S. Women’s Amateurs.

  • Although she has one year of college eligibility remaining, Valenzuela plans to enter LPGA Tour Q-School this fall. She is exempt into the second stage. She was unsure about using the Women’s Open exemption since it will come a few weeks after the 2020 NCAA Championships.

  • Old Waverly received a little more than a half-inch of rain on Saturday afternoon. That was on top of the nearly 2 inches of rain that fell on Friday. Course superintendent Brad Suggs and his maintenance staff did yeoman’s work to get the layout prepared for Sunday’s 36-hole final.

  • While the championship match featured two international players, both Valenzuela and Gabriela Ruffels were born in the United States – Valenzuela in New York City and Ruffels in Orlando, Fla.

  • This wasn’t the first time Mississippi State golfer Blair Stockett had a bag during the championship. She caddied for Lucy Li before she was eliminated by Andrea Lee in the quarterfinals.

  • Ruffels’ brother, Ryan, and her father, Ray, watched the championship match from Canada, where Ryan missed the cut in this week’s event in Calgary. Not long after the match ended, Gabriela FaceTimed with Ryan, who played in the 2015 U.S. Amateur at Olympia Fields (Ill.) Country Club, losing in the Round of 32 to Todd Mitchell, this year’s U.S. Amateur Four-Ball co-champion with Scott Harvey.

  • USC athletic director and Pro Football Hall of Famer Lynn Swann sent a congratulatory text to Ruffels, saying how everyone at the school was proud of her performance.

  • Ruffels, who played 113 holes of match play this week, defeated three Stanford players en route to the title. In addition to Valenzuela on Sunday, Ruffels eliminated rising senior and WAGR No. 2 Andrea Lee, 2 up, in Saturday’s semifinals, and incoming freshman Brooke Seay, 6 and 5, in the Round of 16.

Quotable

“I'm a proud Australian. 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.” – Gabriela Ruffels on making history as the first Australian to win this championship

“I said to [caddie] Blair [Stockett], this is moving a lot. This is moving a lot to the left, and she’s like, yep, it is. And it’s really fast downhill, too. You’re downhill, down great. I’m like, OK. But yeah, just kind of trying to match line and speed and just seeing that ball kind of roll into the hole is special.” – Ruffels

“I knew I could either pull it off or it could be a disaster, but kind of not really looking back on that now because I’m not going to play that shot ever again. But yeah, super glad it worked out.” – Ruffels on her approach to the tee shot on the 168-yard 35th hole, with a left hole location that brought the penalty area into play

“I just FaceTimed my brother straight after. He was with my dad. They’re in Canada right now. They said they were watching the whole thing. And I couldn’t really talk then, either. I’ll have to call them back when I kind of get my words back.” -- Ruffels

“Winning a championship like this gives you recognition and opportunity, and I'm looking forward to that. But kind of still going to keep my head down, work hard, and I’ve still got a lot of things ahead.” – Ruffels on the exemptions that will be coming her way for winning the U.S. Women’s Amateur

“That was amazing of her. I have an amazing coaching staff at Stanford, and they both flew in two years ago to support me, and when she told me she booked her flight, that was amazing.” – Albane Valenzuela on having recently departed Stanford assistant Lauren Dobashi come in for the final

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.

The Social Scene