It took something particularly special to stop Gabi Ruffels.
But that’s precisely what Stephanie Lau provided at the weekend to end the Australian’s bold run at Pinehurst No.2 in the final of the time-honoured North and South Amateur.
The Australian teenager had won the first three holes of a dramatic final before Lau, a senior at Northwestern University, steadied and pulled square with her power producing a couple of birdies through the sixth hole.
In a high-quality and tense match befitting the extra-hole semi-finals both had played to reach the decider, they then traded the lead several times with several more birdies before the crucial moment arrived on the 16th.
Having just given back her first lead with a putt that ran back to her feet off the famous course’s treacherous greens, Lau cashed in on a massive drive up the long 16th, launching a stunning 5-wood to within 2m of the pin.
The American calmly drained the eagle putt after Ruffels elected to lay up and with her 1-up lead reinstated, made a testing 2m par putt on the 17th to seal a 2&1 victory.
“Wow, just … crazy,” Lau said. “It was just a great, great match.”
The runner-up finish, Ruffels’ best individual result since starting at the University of Southern California this year, will move to a career-high world amateur ranking when the list is updated this week.
And the bubbly Victorian was gracious in defeat to the runner-up of the recent Ladies’ British Amateur.
“Just came up short in the final of the North and South Am, but still super proud of the week,” Ruffels later tweeted.
“(But) that shot on 16 was amazing,” Ruffels earlier told Pinehurst.com.
“I knew Stephanie was struggling on those first three holes, but I also knew how good of a player she is.
“I didn’t take that 3-up lead for granted, but she had a couple of great holes, got it to all square, and it just went back and forth from there.”
The result ended a great week for the Australian contingent at the 116th edition of the Carolina-based event.
Remarkably, all five Aussie women entered reached the round of 16 match play, with three to the quarters and Becky Kay losing her semi to Lau on the 19th hole.