WEST POINT • If you are going to make history in the world’s second-oldest women’s amateur golf championship, it might as well be dramatic.
And if you’re going to do it at Old Waverly, there might as well be a Mississippi State connection.
Gabriela Ruffels converted a downhill, left-to-right curling 10-foot birdie putt on the 36th green at Old Waverly Golf Club on Sunday afternoon to defeat Albane Valenzuela 1 up and clinch the 119th U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship title. The 19-year-old is the first Australian to hoist the Robert Cox Trophy.
“It’s been kind of a blur,” Ruffels, a rising junior at Southern Cal, said shortly after her victory. “But this is amazing. This is what you dream of as a kid when you start playing golf. This is the biggest championship in amateur golf. I’m still speechless.”
For Valenzuela, it was her second championship-match defeat – she lost in the 2017 final to Sophia Schubert at San Diego Country Club.
“I mean, it’s tough,” said Valenzuela, 21, a rising senior at Stanford, who was playing in her last U.S. Women’s Amateur. “And it will be even tougher tonight, but I fought really hard.”
Ruffels, No. 52 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking, knew she had to make the putt on the 36th green with Valenzuela’s ball sitting just 3 feet from the hole after a gorgeous 9-iron, 138-yard approach from the fairway. Ruffels’ substitute caddie – Mississippi State junior Blair Stockett – told her the putt would break more than it looked. Stockett knows Old Waverly well as Mississippi State regularly practices at the 31-year-old Jerry Pate/Bob Cupp design.
Stockett took over the bag on the 33rd hole when Ruffels’ regular caddie for the week, Southern Cal women’s coach Justin Silverstein, had to catch a flight home from Memphis for a Monday morning funeral.
The stroke was perfect and at the very last second, the ball trundled over the lip into the hole, touching off an applause from the approximately 300 spectators surrounding the green.
“My caddie, Blair, was great,” Ruffels said. “She made it so clear. She made me so comfortable. And to be honest, I didn’t think that last putt on 18 was going in, but seeing that just drip in, probably the best feeling of my life.”
One hole earlier, Ruffels had grabbed her first lead since the 14th hole of the morning 18 when she stuck her 6-iron tee shot on the 168-yard, par-3 to 6 feet below the hole. Valenzuela, who is No. 2 in the world rankings and shared low-amateur honors in the Evian Championship two weeks ago, nearly holed her 40-foot birdie putt, leaving the door open for Ruffels. Her putt caught the left side of the hole and dropped.
Sunday’s 36-hole marathon was not only hotly contested on the course, but temperatures that reached into the 90s with a heat index touching triple digits made it a test of stamina and intestinal fortitude. Ruffels admitted to feeling the effects of the heat during the afternoon 18 and had her mother bring her an umbrella to stay free from the searing sun.
“Just kind of maintaining energy levels was hard,” said Ruffels, “but I just kind of got in a new mindset toward the end. I think the adrenaline kind of kicked in, and Blair was also a nice fresh kind of addition. Throughout the middle I was kind of tired, but toward the end it was fine.”
Two years ago, Ruffels arrived at Southern Cal talented but still raw. She didn’t start playing golf until she was 14 after a solid junior tennis career. Both of her parents are former tennis professionals. Her dad, Ray, was a mixed doubles finalist at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 1978 with hall-of-famer Billie Jean King. Her mom, Ann-Maria, won the 1981 AIAW national collegiate singles title as a USC senior. But when older brother Ryan started to become an elite golfer, Gabriela wanted to follow suit. Ryan turned pro at 17 and competes on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica and the PGA Tour Canada’s Mackenzie Tour. Ruffels has similar aspirations.
Ruffels, who played 113 holes of match play at Ole Waverly, defeated three Stanford players en route to the title. In addition to Valenzuela on Sunday, Ruffels eliminated rising senior and WAGR No. 2 Andrea Lee, 2 up, in Saturday’s semifinals, and incoming freshman Brooke Seay, 6 and 5, in the Round of 16.