Australia was always going to be a big winner at Pinehurst today.
But in a high-quality North and South Amateur final, it took all day to find out exactly whom that would be.
In the end of an all-Australian epic, Gabi Ruffels prevailed over good mate Doey Choi 2-up to win one of the United States’ most revered amateur crowns at the famous Pinehurst No.2 course in North Carolina.
The pair, mates and rivals since Ruffels first came to the sport competitively four years ago, had earlier set up their showdown with impressive semi-final wins over American opponents.
And for a while, it appeared Sydneysider Choi might hold sway.
But Ruffels, midway through a huge few months in her fledgling career, would not be denied, eventually going one better than her runner-up finish at Pinehurst last year with a conceded birdie on the final hole.
The Melburnian, 19, trailed Choi 2-dn when the threat of lightning forced the first of two weather delays after the sixth hole.
But when they returned to the famous layout, Ruffels won three holes on the trot to hit the front, including a 15m birdie bomb on the eighth hole.
As she has done all week, Choi continued her affinity for the back nine with a superb birdie on the 11th to draw all square again. Remarkably, Choi was 10-under on the back nine through the week.
With a host of their fellow Aussies roaring on their every move, the tension rose until the 14th when Ruffels played what turned out to be the match-winning stroke.
Against the advice of her local caddie for maybe the first time all week, the Victoria Golf Club member hit a beautiful high cut to a tight pin that ended 3m from the flag.
While Choi made a great fist of her long birdie try, it didn’t quite drop and when Ruffels rammed her putt in, the winning break had been established.
“(My caddie) said, ‘Just hit the middle of the green. That’s all I want here. Don’t go at it,’” said Ruffels, whose star has risen in the US since joining the University of Southern California team in 2017.
“I was like, ‘Naahhhhh.’”
Choi played great golf in the ensuing holes, but when her long putt from the front of 18 didn’t fall, she conceded the match to Ruffels, who had about 5m for birdie after another in a series of stunning approach shots.
“This is everything,” Ruffels told Pinehurst.com.
“Coming from last year when I was so close as the runner-up, this was my goal. And to do it in match play where anything can happen … I’m just so happy.”
“I think I played my first ever golf tournament with Doey. She’s a great friend and she’s been a great friend for my whole golf life.”
Choi, a member at Concord, was equally effusive in her praise of her mate.
“It was such a good fight for both of us. I’m really happy for Gabi,” Choi said.
“It was really, really nice (playing in front of our friends following us). It felt like I was back at home, which made it really comfortable.
“Playing against a friend is really hard, but I don’t think I could’ve lost to better person or a better player.”
Ruffels joins an illustrious list of winners in the 117th edition of the event, including Babe Zaharias, Louise Suggs and Peggy Kirk Bell.
Eleven of the past 16 champions have joined the LPGA Tour, four of whom have won major championships – Brittany Lang, Morgan Pressel, Yani Tseng and Danielle Kang.
It was Ruffels' second win since moving to the US after her Windy City Collegiate triumph last year.
The Victorian also qualified for the recent US Women's Open in Charleston and also played a professional event in Japan in June.