Gabriela Ruffels becomes first Australian to win U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship
WEST POINT, Miss. — In a closely contested final match, 19-year-old Australian Gabriela Ruffels defeated 21-year-old Switzerland native Albane Valenzuela 1 up on the 36th hole at Old Waverly Golf Club. It was Ruffels’ first appearance at the U.S. Women’s Amateur, and her Sunday performance capped a week of fearless play.
“This is amazing,” Ruffels said. “This is what you dream of as a kid when you start playing golf, winning tournaments like this. This is the biggest championship in amateur golf. I’m still speechless. But I guess that shows how much it means to me.”
Ruffels sailed through the stroke play portion of the championship, earning the No. 6 seed after firing rounds of 72-68 (four under). In her first three matches, Ruffels dispatched her opponents before reaching the 16th hole, and she didn’t play the 18th until her semifinal match against Andrea Lee on Saturday morning, which she won 2 up.
But Sunday’s final was a different story. Ruffels’ opponent, Albane Valenzuela, was a familiar foe from the PAC-12 conference (Ruffels is a rising junior at USC, and Valenzuela is a rising senior at Stanford), and had experience playing in the final match once before, at the 2017 U.S. Women’s Amateur at San Diego Country Club. Valenzuela lost that year’s final to Sophia Schubert, 6 and 5.
It was a hot, muggy, and physically trying day at Old Waverly. Valenzuela got off to a strong start, going 2 up after four holes. But Ruffels fought back, winning four holes in a row on Nos. 8-11 to take a 3-up lead, only to have Valenzuela tie the match again after winning the 15th. From that point on, it was an equal battle, with eight changes to the lead occurring over the next 18 holes.
Ruffels’ quest for the championship was further complicated by the loss of her caddie, USC coach Justin Silverstein, who had to leave after the 32nd hole in order to catch a flight to attend a funeral. Mississippi State rising junior Blair Stockett, who caddied for Lucy Li earlier in the week, stepped in to cover the remaining holes.
By the time the Ruffels and Valenzuela reached the 35th hole, they were tied, and it was then that Ruffels made her move, sticking her approach on the par-3 17th hole to six feet, and draining the putt to take a 1-up lead heading into the 36th — and potentially final — hole.
Both Ruffels and Valenzuela hit their tee shots into the middle of the fairway on No. 18, and Ruffels was the first to play her approach, hitting her shot just about pin-high to 10 feet. Valenzuela answered in dramatic fashion, knocking her approach to three feet, giving herself an opportunity to extend the match.
But Ruffels putted first, and dripped her birdie putt into the hole on the last roll to win outright and make Valenzuela’s short birdie attempt obsolete. With this win, Ruffels became the first Australian player to win the U.S. Women’s Amateur in the championship’s 119-year history.
As the new reigning U.S. Women’s Amateur champion, Ruffels not only gets a gold medal and the Robert Cox trophy, she also earns an exemption into next year’s U.S. Women’s Open, the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, the Women’s British Open, the ANA Inspiration and the Evian Championship — quite a haul for a week of great play.
“Winning a championship like this gives you recognition and opportunity, and I’m looking forward to that,” Ruffels said. “But kind of still going to keep my head down, work hard, and I’ve still got a lot of things ahead.”
To receive GOLF’s all-new newsletters, subscribe for free here.