Date: November 01, 2018
Author: Mark Hayes

Gabi triumphs in Golf Channel glare

There was a decent crowd gathered around Gabi Ruffels when she sealed the winning point for Victoria in the 2017 Interstates Series at Royal Fremantle.

But it was barely a blip on the radar compared to the young Australian's East Lake Cup-winning heroics today.

Ruffels, still just 18, landed the winning point for her University of Southern California team today, televised across the United States on Golf Channel.

While the nuances of college golf are often overlooked in Australia, there could be no denying that Ruffels was front and centre for American golf fans as she took down world No.7 Andrea Lee to give her Trojans a 3-2 victory.

The East Lake Cup, while only four years old, has quickly become one of college golf's prized trophies, featuring the four semi-finalists of the previous year's NCAA Championship on the same Atlanta Course on which Tiger Woods recently won the PGA Tour Championship.

Against a Stanford women's team featuring individual East Lake Cup winner and world No.5 Albane Valenzuela alongside Lee, the USC team started as underdog despite taking down reigning national champion the University of Arizona in yesterday's semi-finals.

With Valenzuela playing at No.5, Stanford was off to a quick start, but the young Trojans – remarkably featuring one freshman and four sophomores – fought back to level the tie at 2-2 with only Ruffels' match on course.

The Victorian had been 2-down early, but wins on holes nine and 10 drew her square, where the match stayed until the par-four 16th.

From behind the green in two, Ruffels almost holed a delicate downhill chip for birdie and then watched as Lee's par putt from 5m somehow lipped out and left her 1-up.

The American, renowned for her consistency, twice found sand on the par-four 17th, including her second shot left half-buried in the greenside bunker.

Ruffels, as she did for Victoria against New South Wales last year, stayed incredibly calm under the pressure and lagged her birdie try close enough that when Lee's blast ran through the green, the match was effectively finished.

Lee chipped well, but conceded after her ball trickled past the hole giving Ruffels a 2&1 win to seal the winning point for USC.

"It feels amazing. I’m so glad I could get it done for my team," Ruffels told Golf Channel.

"This win gives us a bunch of confidence. We’ve just come off three wins in a row and I think we can go pretty far. Let’s win nationals," she enthused.

<image="2" align="left" />

The Trojans have remarkably won six of their past 11 events, been runner-up twice more and not finished outside the top three. They have also now won three of the four editions of the East Lake Cup.

Head coach Justin Silverstein was full of praise for Ruffels' ability to deal with the big moments.

"I had a conversation with our men’s coach, Chris Zambri, and we’re big on (mental) wiring and how athletes deal with adversity," Silverstein said.

"I told him that I think Gabi is as good as I’ve ever seen at that and I want to put her at anchor. (When it came down to that match) … I liked our chances."