Date: August 10, 2019
Author: Mark Hayes

Gabi roars into final four

Gabi Ruffels said she'd be up for an epic challenge at the US Women's Amateur – and she was true to her word.

The Victorian moved where very few of her countrywomen have ever been today, calling on some spectacular late approaches to advance to the final four of the premier event in women's amateur golf.

No Australian has ever won the event – Anne-Marie Knight and legendary Lindy Goggin were each beaten finalists – meaning Ruffels is just one step from matching their achievements.

That will come overnight tonight (Australian time) when the Melburnian faces world No.2 Andrea Lee in a semi-final at Old Waverly Golf Club in Mississippi.

Lee followed Ruffels' earlier path with a rampant 6&5 win today, but the Aussie was pushed all the way in booking their clash, eventually prevailing 2&1 after a world-class finish.

The other semi-final will feature Lee's Stanford teammate Albane Valenzuela, of Switzerland, against American 15-year-old Megha Ganne.

But all Australian eyes will fall on Ruffels, who has played the fewest holes of the remaining players this week courtesy of some stunning earlier match play wins.

After her round of 16 win, Ruffels said a tighter, longer match wouldn't faze her – and she certainly got that today from Texan Kenzie Wright.

The two collegians – Ruffels is a rising junior at the University of Southern California – combined for 13 birdies, the last three of which were converted by Ruffels.

"It was crazy," said Ruffels, who won the North & South Amateur last month at Pinehurst.

"She just never made any bogeys. I was waiting for her to miss a shot somewhere and then take my chance then, but it just didn’t happen.

"She put the pressure on every single hole … and it finally came to the point where I knew I would need birdies to win holes and the match."

Ruffels, who'd earlier won the first and fifth holes with birdies, three-putted for bogey on the long par-four 13th shortly after a bogey on the 11th and was suddenly 1-down to the University of Alabama star.

"At that point, Kenzie had barely missed a green and when she did she had gotten up an down, so I knew it was going to take something extra," Ruffels said.

And it came, in spades, on the 15th.

With the tee moved up on the par-five, the Victoria Golf Club crushed a drive to within 151m of the flag just as Wright missed the fairway.

Wright kept the ball in play, but could not reach the green with her second – and that was Ruffels' moment.

"My ball was up against the (first cut of rough), but I knew I could get home in two and I took a 6-iron and put it on the green and took two putts for my birdie (to square the match).

"Then I think the key moment was probably on the next hole when I hit a 7-iron inside a foot and she missed the green. She played a good shot up, but … conceded my putt and I was 1-up.

"I put my tee shot on the (par-three) 17th to about 15 feet and she missed the green again, but played a great shot that nearly went in, so I knew I had a putt to win the match and I was lucky enough that it went in."

Remarkably, Wright was five under and hadn't had a bogey, yet so impressive was Ruffels that she just had to reach out and shake the victor's hand.

"It was super fun all day long. It was a little stressful, but it was super fun. These are the types of matches you look forward to," the American said.

Despite her two bogeys, Ruffels was a stellar six under when she triumphed.

"I was just telling myself, this is good for you to be in a pressure situation," said Ruffels, who had not gone past the 15th hole in any of her three previous matches.

"It’s good to see how you handle it. I didn’t want to shy away from it; I just kind of took it head on and did pretty well."

Ruffels said she had played against Lee several times and was looking forward to their match.

"I know her game, she knows mine, so there are no secrets, I guess," Ruffels said.

"I'm playing well, so that's all I can really try to do again."